Potential class action against Calgary lawyer seeks millions for 're-victimized' residential school survivors

A hearing date has been set for certification of a class action lawsuit representing thousands of residential school survivors who are seeking tens of millions of dollars in compensation.

Hearing date has been set for lawsuit's certification

Andrew Bull Calf spent several years at a residential school in Alberta. He's a member of a proposed class action lawsuit seeking millions for re-victimized survivors. (Reid Southwick/CBC)

About 30 men and women from the Blood Tribe in southern Alberta, most of whom are residential school survivors, listen closely as their lawyer Max Faille briefs them on what's next in their class action lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges their former Calgary lawyer and several other defendants failed to advocate for them and charged excessive fees.

The suit was launched several years ago on behalf of thousands of residential school survivors, who allege David Blott abused their trust, put his own financial interests ahead of theirs, charged excessive fees and helped issue illegal loans to claimants ahead of their settlements.

On Wednesday the survivors's current lawyer, Max Faille, told the group gathered at the Kainai Continuing Care Centre in Standoff, Alta., that a date has been set for certification in May, a necessary next step if this lawsuit is to proceed.

"In our view, this is a very simple and straightforward matter in terms of the merits of it," Faille said.

"There has already been a court determination of his mishandling of these cases so there really should not be any issue in that regard."

Clients treated 'like cattle'

Blott was representing at least 4,600 people, who were applying for compensation for the residential school settlement program in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories.

Blott resigned in 2014 while the Law Society of Alberta was investigating his conduct.

It found he re-victimized his residential school clients and treated them "like cattle."

"It's been a long time. I lost my wife in the process, too. She passed away last December," said Andrew Bull Calf, who spent several years at a residential school on the Blood reserve. He started at the school as early as age five, only coming home for the summer months.

"But I'm still going, still haven't given up. I've got a lot of faith in our lawyers," Bull Calf said.

Lawyer Max Faille is representing residential school survivors who allege a former Calgary lawyer abused their trust. (Reid Southwick/CBC)

The suit was filed in Calgary in 2013. Since then, many survivors have died, waiting for some type of resolution.

In the suit's statement of claim, Bull Calf said he and others hired Blott to help them apply for federal compensation for the abuse they suffered while attending the residential school.

Bull Calf said he was told he was going to receive $175,000 in compensation but ended up with $50,000 after paying off legal fees and high interest loans he received through one of the people named in the suit.

Bull Calf said since launching the class action lawsuit, Blott has come forward with an offer to settle but the group felt it was not adequate so refused the offer.

At this latest meeting, he felt a tinge of hope that justice is in sight, although he believes it may still be a few years away.

There's probably no amount of money that can properly compensate people for the harms that they endured.- Max Faille, lawyer

"In a way it is frustrating," Bull Calf said.

"At least I know where we stand now and from where I see, we still got a long way to go."

Faille said he understands people's frustrations with the time it's taking to resolve this case.

"It's always a balancing act of ensuring it's done properly and ensuring that all avenues have been explored without going to court," he said. "So there are some inherent delays in the process and then we are subject to the availability of the courts and counsel."

'Tens of millions of dollars'

As for the amount the class is seeking, the lawyer would only say it's in the tens of millions of dollars.

"First of all, I would say that there's probably no amount of money that can properly compensate people for the harms that they endured and the re-victimization that they endured at their hands, unfortunately of their legal counsel, for what we say is the the severe mishandling of their claims," said Faille.

"But the compensation would take various forms. Certainly first and foremost, our position in the lawsuit is that any amounts that he was paid, that Mr. Blot was paid, by way of legal fees should be properly reimbursed to those individuals."

He said they are also seeking general damages and punitive damages.

Plus he argued some residential school survivors weren't properly compensated by Blott.

A hearing date for certification has been set in Calgary for May 24.

About the Author

Colleen Underwood

Reporter

Colleen Underwood has been a reporter/editor with CBC news for more than 10 years filing stories from across southern Alberta for radio, television and online. Follow her on Twitter @cbccolleen.