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Residential school survivors await outcome from BC Supreme Court
When other residential school survivors were attending hearings and receiving payments through the Independent Assessment Program, members of the Blood Tribe who had lawyers with the Calgary firm of Blott and Company, weren’t seeing any movement.
“People on our reserve were complaining that there was no action happening with (their IAP) claims,” said Rick Tailfeathers, with the Chief and council’s office. “When the claims take over two or three years, you start to wonder if they’re really able to deal with this. The clock is ticking away so a lot of members were worried that their claims were not really taken care of.”
The result of those concerns was an investigation by court monitor Crawford-Class Action Services. The outcome of the investigation was presented in a five-and-a-half-day hearing which concluded May 11 with BC Supreme Court Justice Brenda Brown reserving her judgement on allegations that Blott and Company took financial advantage of clients they were representing in the IAP and that the law firm was providing poor representation.
Chief Adjudicator Daniel Ish said the Indian Residential School Adjudication Secretariat wasn’t aware until the court hearings began April 30 that Blott was allegedly facilitating action by third party finance companies to provide loans at interest rates as high as 60 per cent or charging high fees to IAP claimants in anticipation of the settlements clients would receive. A provision in the IRSSA prohibits the assignment of settlement agreement funds to anyone but the claimant.
“It’s a special provision that doesn’t apply in the law generally,” said Ish. “But there must have been a fear that money would be … assigned to other people in anticipation of getting either Common Experience Payment or IAP payment and … by the time (the claimant) got their money, there wouldn’t be much left.”
The second allegation facing Blott was improper legal representation. Concerns were raised with how often firm lawyers met with clients. At 3,000 IAP clients, Blott has “the greatest inventory of cases,” said Ish, noting other law firms also have multiple clients.
Almost half of the claimants that Blott represents have not had their IAP applications filed. Sept. 19 is the deadline for applications to be received for compensation under the IAP.
While the court’s decision is pending, Ish assured survivors “they shouldn’t be panicking … there’s a number of well-meaning parties overseeing this to make sure the right thing gets done.”
The Law Society of Alberta conducted its own investigation of Blott and Company, in which suspension of David Blott was considered. However, the decision was made to restrict Blott’s practice. The LSA released its conditions April 23, stating Blott could no longer have contact with IAP clients nor handle their cases. However, lawyers within the firm may continue to work with IAP claimants but may only accept new files if LSA-appointed lawyer Paul McLaughlin approves.
McLaughlin is to oversee the management of Blott and Company’s practice as well as the transfer and closing process of IAP files.
“Mr. McLaughlin’s appointment was made to protect the interest of clients,” said Steve Raby, president of the LSA, in an email interview. “The Law Society of Alberta is very concerned for the clients and about the conduct of Mr. David Blott. Mr. Blott was not suspended but put under strict conditions of practice. As Mr. Blott is still practising the conditions are intended to protect the interests of clients.”
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