More than 100 people who say they were abused at an Indian residential school could have their claims for compensation thrown out this week because their lawyer, who was disbarred in 2014 for his mishandling of similar cases, determined years ago that they do not qualify for an award.
Ian Pitfield, a former British Columbia Supreme Court justice, will ask the B.C. Supreme Court to declare that 147 claims marked “do not qualify” by disgraced Calgary lawyer David Blott be permanently withheld from the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), which was established to set the compensation levels for former students who suffered actual physical and sexual abuse.
Mr. Pitfield was appointed by the court in 2012 to disperse thousands of IAP claims filed by clients of Mr. Blott to other legal counsel. More than 2,000 of the cases have been handed off in what the federal government describes as an expeditious and orderly manner.
But documents related to about 160 cases, contained in 19 boxes marked “do not qualify/DNQ,” were discovered in 2012 in a Calgary warehouse. Mr. Pitfield has asked the court, in a case that will be heard in Vancouver on Friday, to determine that those claims should be “forever barred from admission to the IAP.”
When asked last year by Dan Shapiro, the chief adjudicator of the IAP, to explain why he said the DNQ cases had no basis for claim, Mr. Pitfield replied in a July, 2017, letter that he had not actually reviewed any of the files to determine if they had merit.
“I relied on his [Mr. Blott’s] work and determination in that regard,” Mr. Pitfield wrote. “I did not have the knowledge to make the determination,” he added. He went on to explain he did not believe it was appropriate to ask other lawyers to review the cases because those lawyers would not be compensated for their work unless the claims resulted in an award.
In an affidavit, advance-dated July 5, 2018, Mr. Pitfield says he “cursorily” examined the DNQ files and decided Mr. Blott’s stated justifications for rejecting them were “reasonable.”
In fact, 12 of the cases in the boxes marked DNQ by Mr. Blott have been admitted to the IAP with the help of other lawyers and five of them were deemed eligible for awards. One of those claimants was given $124,500.
“You can assume the person suffered pretty severe physical or sexual abuse,” said David Schulze, a Montreal lawyer who has represented many IAP claimants and who, with other lawyers who have also helped residential-school survivors, will have standing at Friday’s hearing.
In the 2012 judgment that barred Mr. Blott and his co-workers from representing residential-school survivors, Vancouver judge Brenda Brown determined Mr. Blott was not competent to determine which claims would qualify for compensation, Mr. Schulze said. Mr. Pitfield, he said, “is asking that we throw these claims out without anyone [else] making the determination.”
The fact that five of the 12 DNQ claims that went before the IAP resulted in compensation suggests there is a high likelihood that many of the claims are from people who were sexually or physically abused as children in Canada’s Indian residential schools, Mr. Schulze said. “But they will never get a hearing and they will never get compensation.”
Mr. Pitfield referred requests for comment to lawyer Louis Zivot, who said he has not had time to discuss the matter with Mr. Pifield and could provide only background information about the case.
A lawyer for the federal Justice Department has written to the court to say that, if there are concerns about the files in the boxes marked DNQ, those cases should be referred back to Mr. Pitfield.
James Fitz-Morris, a spokesman for Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, said the government is reviewing Mr. Pitfield’s request.
In an affidavit, Mr. Shapiro says he has no opinion about what should happen to the claims. But, he says, should the court decide the cases should get a hearing before the IAP, he would ensure they are expedited to be heard before the deadline of Dec. 1, when the process is scheduled to be completed.