Ovide Mercredi is helping Ontario’s law society to review its best practices when it comes to helping Indigenous people.
Mercredi, the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations has been hired by the Law Society of Upper Canada to review its best practices and respect when it comes to dealing with Indigenous clients.
The move comes after complaints were received about how one Ontario lawyer handled the cases of residential school survivors.
There were allegations of professional misconduct against lawyer Doug Keshen, who represented about 400 residential school survivors.
21 of them filed complaints against him.
The case against him was dismissed by a tribunal – but Mercredi wants to hear from those survivors.
“The Western way of dealing with truth is about evidence but evidence isn’t necessarily about truth,” said Mercredi. “So the courts are limited with the facts presented in each case. Our approach is very different, the Indigenous way of finding truth is allowing people the freedom to fully express their story.”
The allegations occurred between 2003 and 2013 when Keshen was acting on behalf of survivors and their claims against Canada and the churches.
Residential school survivor Dalton Quezance said Keshen didn’t help him and he eventually found a different lawyer.
“And this new group took my case on and got me an award,” said Quezance. “This is why I came here today, to talk about how Doug handled my case.”
It’s experiences like Quezance’s that led to a June 2016 Law Society of Upper Canada Tribunal to review Keshen’s work.
The hearings lasted almost a month and hear from investigators, experts, former clients and colleagues of Keshen.
By April 2017, the tribunal said they didn’t find any evidence of professional misconduct.
But the law society is looking at its process of how Indigenous people, like residential school survivors, are dealt with – including complaints against lawyers.
In its decision on the Keshen case, the society recognized cultural gaps.
“We recognize that the process of being examined and cross-examined and questioned by us in the hearing was often stressful and difficult,” the ruling said.
“It appeared to leave many witnesses feeling they couldn’t tell their stories the way they wanted to and that it was held in a way disconnected from the Anishinaabe culture.”
Mercredi is meeting with survivors in Northwestern Ontario over the next several months to hear about their experiences with lawyers during the settlement process.
“What we’re learning from them is that they don’t really appreciate the cross-examination, the criminal nature of the prosecutions they experienced,” he said. “They feel that their story was not ever fully told, that they weren’t given the opportunity to tell their story fully.”
Quezance said that is why he is speaking out.
“I just want to be heard, I want my…what happened to me be known,” he said. “Where people don’t have to look upon me and say, just another Indian.”
Mercredi will prepare a report for the law society by May 2018.
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