APTN National News
Two Ontario law firms allegedly failed to produce documents in their possession that could have helped their Indian residential school survivor clients during compensation hearings for abuse suffered at a notorious institution known for using an electric chair on students, according to a document filed with an Ontario court.
The two firms—Nelligan O’Brien Payne and Wallbridge, Wallbridge—are named in a request for directions filed with the Superior Court of Ontario as part of ongoing litigation related to the handling of St. Anne’s Indian residential school abuse claims by the Independent Assessment Process (IAP).
The IAP was created by the multi-billion dollar Indian residential school settlement agreement to set compensation payouts for abuse claims.
A hearing on the case is scheduled for Friday in Toronto.
The request for directions, filed by St. Anne’s residential school survivor Edmund Metatawabin and another survivor known as K-10106, seeks to have the court investigate whether the non-disclosure of documents constituted a breach of the settlement agreement. The court action also seeks to compel Ottawa to disclose remaining documents related to previous St. Anne’s related litigation and settle several other matters related to the IAP and the handing of hundreds of abuse claims by survivors of the institution.
Lawyers representing Nelligan O’Brien Payne and Wallbridge, Wallbridge denied the allegations.
“The firm denies the allegations,” said Peter Wardle, partner with Toronto firm Wardle Daley Bernstein Beiber LLP, which is representing Nelligan O’Brien Payne. “But would prefer not to comment further while the matter is before the court.”
Wardle said he would be representing the firm during Friday’s hearing in Toronto. In a court filing submitted earlier this month, Nelligan O’Brien Payne argued the allegations against the firm did not constitute a breach of the settlement agreement and did not meet threshold for the court’s intervention.
“The allegations against the Wallbridge firm are ridiculous,” said Geoff Adair of Toronto firm Adair Barristers, who is representing Wallbridge, Wallbridge. “No further comment.”
St. Anne’s Indian residential school is one of the country’s most infamous residential schools where staff tortured students in an electric chair. St. Anne’s originated as a Roman Catholic mission affiliated with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Nuns of the Cross. It began to receive federal funding in 1906 and sat near the junction of the Albany and Yellow rivers along Ontario’s James Bay coast. It closed in 1976.
Troubling reports about the treatment of students at the school surfaced throughout the institution’s existence, including in a 1968 letter to Jean Chrétien, who was Indian Affairs minister at the time.
The school was also the subject of an Ontario Provincial Police investigation in the 1990s that led to charges and several convictions against former school staff.
The records from the OPP investigation were produced and filed before the Ontario Superior Court during a 2003 case launched by St. Anne’s residential school survivors against Catholic Church entities and Ottawa. The lawsuit named 180 alleged perpetrators.
The case was heard in Cochrane, Ont. Wallbridge, Wallbridge represented 154 St. Anne’s survivors and Nelligan O’Brien Payne represented the Diocese of Moosonee, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa, according to court records.
Years later, Nelligan O’Brien Payne and Wallbridge, Wallbridge represented St. Anne’s residential school survivors during IAP hearings for compensation, according to the request for direction document filed as part of the ongoing litigation. During those IAP hearings, Ottawa provided evidence claiming there was no documented proof of sexual abuse at St. Anne’s, according to the request for directions.
In fact, Ottawa did have the OPP records along with transcripts and records from the Cochrane, Ont., civil proceedings which substantiated claims of abuse. These same records would have been available to Wallbridge, Wallbridge and Nelligan O’Brien Payne, according to the request for directions.
The Ontario Superior Court ordered Ottawa in January 2014 to produce the OPP evidence in its files, along with transcripts of the civil proceedings, pleadings and public documents from the civil action. Ottawa has still not turned over civil proceeding transcripts.
Several St. Anne’s residential school survivors filed evidence as part of the ongoing litigation. Five allege Wallbridge, Wallbridge and Nelligan O’Brien Payne failed to inform them of the existence of the same documents before their respective IAP hearings.
The survivors are identified in the court records by ID numbers.
Claimant K-10106 alleges her claim was denied because the IAP adjudicator was “given the false…narrative about St. Anne’s that stated there was no documentation about sexual abuse at St. Anne’s.” The claimant, who was represented by Nelligan O’Brien Payne, claims they did not know the law firm acted for Catholic Church entities in previous residential school related litigation.
“Nelligan O’Brien Payne never sought direction from the court to require federal officials to file the proper disclosure for her IAP hearing and/or review and/or failed to directly file that evidence to support her IAP hearing and review,” said the request for directions.
Claimant H-15019, who was represented by Wallbridge, Wallbridge and also saw their abuse claim rejected in the IAP process, alleged they faced a “potential miscarriage of justice arising out of the failure by federal officials, the Church entities and his former legal counsel and/or Wallbridge, Wallbridge to produce the revised and augmented disclosure for St. Anne’s for his IAP hearing and review.”
Claimant H-00199, who was represented by Nelligan O’Brien Payne, claimed they were never informed the firm acted for Catholic entities in previous litigation and that “this was a conflict of interest and he would not have retained that firm to represent him.” The claimant also stated “he was never informed of the documents containing similar fact evidence of sexual and physical abuse at St. Anne’s IRS that had been in the possession of Nelligan O’Brien Payne prior to the signing of the (Indian residential school settlement agreement).”
Claimant S-11733 stated they filed a complaint against Wallbridge, Wallbridge with the Law Society of Upper Canada.
“Federal officials failed to file proper disclosure for her IAP hearing and Wallbridge, Wallbridge did not file a request for direction from the court to compel federal officials to file the proper disclosure for her IAP hearing and/or failed to directly file that evidence to support her IAP claim,” said the request for directions.
Claimant E-10044, who was represented by Nelligan O’Brien Payne, stated they were never told the firm represented Catholic Church entities in previous residential school litigation. The claimant stated they would not have hired the firm if they had been provided that information.
“He was never told that Nelligan O’Brien Payne had documentation about all the abuses at St. Anne’s,” said the request for direction.
A request for directions is a limited legal civil procedure aimed at asking the court for intervention.