New measures announced to protect residential school claimants
"A small minority of legal counsel continue to engage in practices that effectively deprive claimants of the benefits they are entitled to"
The chief adjudicator of the Independent Assessment Process for residential school survivors announced new measures this week designed to protect claimants from lawyers who engage in illegal conduct and take advantage of their vulnerable clients.
The IAP is specifically for former students of residential schools who experienced serious physical, sexual, or emotional abuse during their time at school — distinct from the common experience payments, which were designed for anyone who attended residential school.
But the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat, which oversees the IAP, became aware of a small number of lawyers who were bilking clients.
Complaints emerged about one particular Calgary-based lawyer, prompting an investigation.
“The vast majority of lawyers representing claimants in the IAP are diligent and do excellent and highly ethical work,” Dan Shapiro, the chief adjudicator, said in a news release.
“However a small minority of legal counsel continue to engage in practices that effectively deprive claimants of the benefits they are entitled to under the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.”
New measures were announced Oct. 21 to help crack down on the practice of relying on non-lawyer form-fillers to solicit claimants. The same people were found to be facilitating and claiming large payments from claimants.
The measures aim to force lawyers to disclose full information about fees charged to claimants.
The new measures are also aimed at stopping lawyers from facilitating third party loans and cash advances to claimants, which has been found to result in assignments or directions to pay that violate the settlement agreement.
In every IAP case, adjudicators provide a ruling on legal fees. In an updated guidance paper, legal fee review decisions will include new clauses to protect claimants.
Shapiro has also met with representatives of law societies across the country to raise awareness about the challenges faced by vulnerable claimants.
“These measures will have no impact on the vast majority of IAP lawyers, who serve their clients well,” Shapiro said.
“For the few that persist in unconscionable and illegal conduct, they serve as a further indication that we will protect the integrity of the process, and that the mistreatment or exploitation of vulnerable claimants will not be tolerated in the IAP.”
The IAP was established in 2007 under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest class action settlement in Canadian history.
The IAP is a claimant-centred process that provides compensation to former aboriginal students for abuse they suffered at residential.
As of August, 2013, IRSAS had received 37,868 applications for compensation under the IAP.
Of these, 23,268 cases have been resolved and more than $2.091 billion has been paid out in compensation by the Government of Canada.
But many Nunavummiut have faced barriers to that compensation due to issues around eligibility.
Out of 30 Nunavut schools that were submitted for addition to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, 15 were not accepted.