147 residential school survivors get final chance to have cases heard

More than 100 residential school survivors on the brink of being permanently barred from the compensation process will get a final chance to enter the system that determines payouts for abuse, under a court ruling issued Friday.

Cases on brink of being shut out granted reprieve by B.C. judge

Calgary lawyer David Blott. The cases of 147 residential school survivors were initially deemed ineligible for compensation by disgraced Calgary law firm Blott and Co. (Mark van Manen/Vancouver Sun)

More than 100 residential school survivors on the brink of being permanently barred from the compensation process will get a final chance to enter the system that determines payouts for abuse, under a court ruling issued Friday.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Brenda Brown ruled the 147 cases would be handed over to lawyers for review and then submitted to the process that determines whether they qualify for compensation by Sept. 14. 

The cases were initially deemed ineligible by disgraced Calgary law firm Blott and Co., and never filed.

​Friday's ruling was deemed a "success" by the head of the independent counsel group that fought for them to be reviewed.

"We have given these claimants an opportunity to have their claims reviewed," said Peter Grant, in a statement.

'Manipulative' practices 

In her ruling, Brown said the body overseeing the compensation process, the Indian Residential School Adjudication Secretariat, must determine which cases qualify for compensation by Oct. 1, and that claimants have until Oct. 15 to appeal rejections to its chief adjudicator, Dan Shapiro.

The multi-billion dollar Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement — signed by Ottawa, the churches and Indigenous groups in 2006 — created a system to set compensation payouts called the Independent Assessment Process (IAP). The secretariat oversees the IAP. 

The IAP began in late 2007 and is nearing its end.

The 147 cases are among the last claims that have not entered the IAP, which determines payouts based on the severity of abuse suffered by a survivor. 

Blott and Co. was banned by Brown in June 2012 from handling residential school cases over "manipulative" practices and for issuing loans to survivors against future compensation payouts.  

Other cases awarded

The retired B.C. judge who oversaw transferring the thousands of Blott cases to other lawyers asked the court in June to "forever" bar those 147 from the IAP. 

Though Ian Pitfield conducted no legal review of the cases, he found the firm's determination of ineligibility "could be acceptable as reasonable."

Shapiro, in his own court submission, said the firm's categorizations could not be trusted and asked the court allow the 147 cases to go through the compensation system.

The secretariat found that 13 separate cases — that were initially categorized by Blott's firm as ineligible for the IAP — have gone through the system and six received awards ranging from $16,000 to $124,000, according to court documents.  

Under Brown's ruling, it will be up to Pitfield to transfer the 147 cases to new lawyers for submission with the IAP.

Ottawa did not take a position in the case, but the office of Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett had raised concerns about the cases being permanently barred.

"The government of Canada is pleased that all parties involved in these discussions were able to find a solution to ensure survivor claims are treated fairly," said Bennett's office in an emailed statement.

The secretariat said in a statement it "is gearing up to process any Blott DNQ claims that may be admitted to the IAP so that all hearings can be concluded by December 1, 2018."

About the Author

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him