POLITICS

Former judge meets with Blood tribe to help Indian residential school survivors

07/05/2012 06:12 EDT | Updated 09/04/2012 05:12 EDT
STANDOFF, Alta. - Members of the Blood Tribe in southern Alberta say a retired B.C. judge's visit to their community has renewed some faith in the settlement process for Indian residential school survivors.

Ian Pitfield met with members of the tribe this week to reassure them that their compensation claims for sexual and physical abuse will be dealt with properly.

Last month, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled a Calgary law firm could no longer represent more than 5,600 survivors across Canada seeking federal compensation.

Justice Brenda Brown wrote that Blott and Co.'s operations were undeniably "designed to maximize economies of scale." She also said Blott didn't treat clients as people who had suffered trauma, didn't provide timely or adequate legal advice and helped arrange high-interest loans for some clients with lending companies.

"The integrity of the system has to be restored," Rick Tailfeathers, a Blood Tribe spokesman, said Thursday.

"There is a sense of being retraumatized by the lawyer because they have to go through the process of disclosing information again. There is a sense of abandonment that they were just numbers. The human factor was not very strong."

The $5-billion Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement is believed to be the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history. It is designed to resolve claims of abuse at more than 130 residential schools across the country out of court.

Tailfeathers said Pitfield told the mainly elderly survivors Wednesday that new lawyers will help them before a Sept. 19 deadline for filing compensation claims. More than 1,000 people on the reserve filed claims through Blott.

Pitfield, who has experience dealing with complex lawsuits, was appointed by the court last month to sort out the legal mess. He met with band leaders, elders and members in a reserve building that used to house a Catholic-run residential school.

"It was very good for the claimants to get the reassurance that Pitfield gave them," Tailfeathers said. "He was very responsive to their concerns."

The B.C. Supreme Court last month also ordered the removal of companies and organizations that worked with Blott from the claims assessment process, including Honour Walk Ltd., the Residential School Healing Society of Canada and Hands Free Office Services.

Following the ruling, the federal Indian Residential School Adjudication Secretariat said it regretted the worry and concern that the actions of Blott & Co. had caused.

— By John Cotter in Edmonton