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Residential-school survivors’ claims must be reviewed, B.C. court rules

Compensation claims of more than 100 residential-school survivors must be reviewed to determine if they have merit, a British Columbia court has ruled. The cases had previously been abandoned because their lawyer, who was disbarred in 2014 for his mishandling of similar cases, said they do not qualify for an award.

Ian Pitfield, who was appointed by the court in 2012 to disperse thousands of claims filed by clients of disgraced Calgary lawyer David Blott to other legal counsel, had asked the B.C. Supreme Court to prevent the claims from moving forward.

Although Mr. Pitfield said he had never reviewed the claims to determine if there was a reasonable likelihood of an award, he asked for 147 claims that Mr. Blott had marked “do not qualify” to be permanently withheld from the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), which sets the compensation levels for former students who suffered actual physical and sexual abuse.

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But lawyers who have represented residential-school survivors at IAP hearings disagreed with the move by Mr. Pitfield, who is himself a former B.C. Supreme Court justice. And a settlement was reached allowing the claims to be examined.

In an order issued late last week, the court said the IAP Secretariat must provide Mr. Pitfield with the names of lawyers who are willing to take over the claims and Mr. Pitfield must divide up the claims among them as he deems appropriate.

The court set a deadline of Sept. 14 for filing any claims, and Dan Shapiro, the chief adjudicator for the IAP, has said he will expedite hearings to ensure that they take place before Dec. 1 when the IAP is scheduled to wrap up.

Peter Grant, the chair of the group of independent lawyers who represent former students of the schools, said the ruling was a success for all parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

“We have given these claimants an opportunity to have their claims reviewed,” Mr. Grant said. “I thank Mr. Pitfield and Mr. Shapiro for their co-operation in getting this resolved in a way other than denial of these claims.”

More than 2,000 of Mr. Blott’s cases have been handed off by Mr. Pitfield 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. It is believed that most of them are from people who live on a single Alberta First Nation.

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Mr. Pitfield had the court to determine that those claims should be “forever barred from admission to the IAP.”

Related: Court asked to bar residential-school survivors’ compensation claims from being heard by independent adjudicator

Supreme Court to examine process for deciding residential school compensation

When asked last year by Mr. Shapiro 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.”

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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.

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.

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