Anishinaabe Elders saved the day for lawyer Doug Keshen Monday as a proposal to conclude his professional misconduct case hung in the balance.
They advised the hearing panel from the Law Society of Upper Canada to “practice humility” and “listen better” – an irony given Keshen was alleged to have mishandled residential school compensation files.
“We’re going to accept the joint submission now,” panel chair David Wright told the small crowd at the hearing in Kenora, Ontario. “Thanks to the Elders in getting to that understanding.”
Wright and his two co-panellists sought out the Elders during several breaks during the morning session, clearly unhappy with Keshen’s take on the proceedings. Wright stopped Keshen from speaking twice, suggesting he wasn’t saying what the panel wanted to hear.
The Elders from Treaty 3 territory remained calm, smudged the room twice and encouraged a more conciliatory tone. They came from First Nations that are home to survivors who alleged Keshen was unprofessional in his dealings with them between 2003 and 2012.
Some complained Keshen arranged high-interest loans, withdrew legal fees and disbursements from their compensation awards, failed to interview them for their claims, and didn’t communicate with them during the process.
Providing loans in advance of their compensation award was prohibited by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
Keshen, who has worked with First Nation clients in northwestern Ontario for nearly 40 years, has said he was simply helping clients and doing what they asked. He denied any wrongdoing.
On Monday, as part of an arrangement consented to beforehand by all parties, the hearing was converted from a disciplinary hearing to an “Invitation to Attend.” By mutual agreement, Keshen was not formally disciplined but agreed to appear to receive corrective advice from the law society panel. He also agreed to participate in up to three healing circles with former clients at the law society’s expense. And was told there would be no discipline record.
“My sincere belief is that there’s no doubt some people were hurt through this process,” said Keshen, who dropped an abuse of process counter-motion against the law society in accepting the joint proposal. “I regret that. Some members of the community have felt [that my service was] a betrayal. I feel terrible about that. I think about it all of the time.”
Neither party was assessed costs, but defence lawyer Robin Parker said the price of fighting the charges for Keshen was “extreme.” She added the charges “decimated” Keshen’s reputation. And added he had to endure anti-Semitic slurs in the community related to the alleged theft of money from survivors.
Both she and Keshen cited media reporting on the issue, saying it was unfair and negative.
Survivors are under no obligation to attend the healing circles, noted law society lawyer Graeme Cameron. Their identities were kept under wraps during the hearings and the media prevented from naming or filming them.
Wright said testifying was stressful for survivors and a big learning curve for the non-Indigenous panel members. He said he learned a lot about Indigenous culture and thanked the Anishinaabe people for being gracious hosts and passing on knowledge of their traditions.
The panel incorporated many recommendations, including holding the hearings in a circle and opening and closing their days with prayers by an Elder. Panellists also attended a sweat lodge, he said.
Elders did not like the adversarial nature of the hearings, Wright added, noting direct- and cross-examination were hard on survivors.