(Saskatchewan lawyer Tony Merchant.)
Ottawa is currently negotiating a 60s Scoop compensation claim with a lawyer it says overbilled the government during the residential school process.
According to court records, the federal government is suing Tony Merchant, a Saskatchewan-based lawyer and spokesperson for a group of four law firms trying to reach a 60s Scoop deal, for fraud, misrepresentation and deceit.
The records state that Ottawa is trying to get millions back from the Merchant Law Group (MLG) from an earlier compensation program – the one for former students of Indian residential schools.
“The government is pursuing legal action against MLG in a matter arising from the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). This matter is not related to the Sixties Scoop,” the department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs said in an email to APTN News.
“The Sixties Scoop negotiations are taking place in accordance with the federal court’s dispute resolution services and under the supervision of a federal court judge.”
The choice of lawyers belongs to class members, the department added.
Merchant, whose wife is Liberal senator Pana Merchant, has wide experience organizing and negotiating class-action lawsuits.
His firm represented more than 7,000 claimants under IRSSA and was paid $25 million in 2008.
But in 2015, Ottawa questioned that amount and filed a civil suit http://canliiconnects.org/en/summaries/46936 seeking that money back plus its legal fees between 1997 and 2005.
The claim alleges Merchant’s electronic billing statements were incorrect.
Especially after some lawyers billed out more than 24 hours in a day, and some records were back-dated by as much as two years.
“A large proportion of these time entries were intentionally inflated, duplicated or simply fabricated,” the claim reads.
The government is backed by reports from Deloitte which reviewed Merchant’s billing records.
Merchant Law denies the allegations and filed a counter-suit for $20 million, alleging Ottawa short-changed it by more than $50 million.
It claims the government defaulted on an original agreement from 2005 to pay Merchant Law $40 million for work it did on behalf of residential school survivors.
None of these accusations have been proven in court.
Merchant has also been disciplined three times by the Law Society of Saskatchewan.
Now, he is busy with ‘60s Scoop negotiations that he confirmed are confidential.
He said the four he speaks for are: Merchant Law, Koskie Minsky, David Klein and Wilson-Christen.
He said survivors won’t pay any legal fees if they apply for ‘60s Scoop compensation through one of the four firms.
In exchange for that exclusivity, the quartet has asked Ottawa for $75 million to cover their legal fees.
Each survivor should receive between $25,000 and $50,000, which the four firms maintain is more than claimants would have received by fighting in court.
Separately the four firms represent class-action lawsuits in various provinces, and they say the federal settlement of $750 million means those too will be settled rather than certified. https://www.merchantlaw.com/class-actions/current-class-actions/indian-metis-scoop-class-action
As well, Ottawa is designating $50 million for a new Indigenous Healing Foundation.
Survivors were at-risk children taken from their reserves by child welfare workers and adopted to non-Indigenous families beginning in the 1960s.
Those adoptees – an estimated 200,000 – are now adults seeking monetary damages for loss of family, culture and identity.
But Bill Klym, a Calgary lawyer with DD West, says his ‘60s Scoop clients don’t want to deal with Merchant.
However, he says he’s been unable to penetrate the official group.
“We tried to get a motion into federal court and couldn’t,” he said in a telephone interview
“We are adamantly opposed to the proposed settlement agreement Merchant had a role in drafting,” added Lee McMillan, an associate at Klym’s firm.
Klym couldn’t say what that would mean for the settlement agreement but suggested a judge was unlikely to sign off unless all members of the class were satisfied.
The settlement reached so far has been agreed to in principle and has a date with a judge to be finalized next spring.
Then the application process for compensation would begin.