Residential school survivors were failed by the Law Society of Ontario when it came to handling their complaints against a lawyer, says a scathing new report.
“The days of the status quo or business as usual will not lead to reconciliation,” concludes Ovide Mercredi, a lawyer and former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who penned the review for the Society.
“The range of issues brought to my attention went deep into the impact of the Residential Schools on personal lives, the shortcomings of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and the Law Society’s regulatory and hearing processes.”
The report was released on the society’s website late Wednesday afternoon.
Read the report here: Review Panel Report
Mercredi was hired by the Society last year after it abandoned its disciplinary probe of Doug Keshen, a lawyer based in Kenora, Ont., following a lengthy investigation.
The move angered and confused survivors, who Mercredi described as “emotional” in telling him what happened.
“They felt betrayed by their lawyer,” he said. “It also appeared that they did not understand the Law Society’s process. Many of them think they went to court when attending before the Law Society Tribunal.”
Their evidence led to allegations of professional misconduct against Keshen before a disciplinary hearing was suspended last April and resolved without any mark on Keshen’s record.
But the situation violated the trust between survivors and the Society, said Mercredi, noting it will take a big push to restore that relationship.
“The complainants against Keshen, residential school survivors in general, and the administration of justice as it impacts on First Nations in Ontario requires the immediate attention, action, co-operation, and support of the entire legal profession,” he wrote.
Without making cultural sensitivity a mandatory part of its practice, Mercredi says the Society will continue to impose its “settler” system on survivors.
“There is a need understand who the client is, their capacity and knowledge in relation to these processes,” he said, recommending changes to the Society’s practice guidelines, training and Indigenous knowledge.
Mercredi, who made a number of recommendations, said the treatment by the Society compounded the hurt survivors were already feeling. He said they didn’t warm to the non-Indigenous, non-adversarial style of the disciplinary tribunal. And, he said, no lawyers should handle such cases that aren’t familiar with the vulnerability of survivors.