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‘Revictimized’ residential school survivors can sue disgraced lawyer in class-action

A Calgary judge has certified a class-action lawsuit against a disgraced former lawyer who was found to have revictimized thousands of residential school survivors.

David Blott resigned in 2014 after the Law Society of Alberta found that ‘victims of the residential school system were effectively revictimized and treated less like human beings and more like cattle.’ (APTN)

A Calgary judge has certified a class-action lawsuit against a disgraced former lawyer who was found to have revictimized thousands of residential school survivors.

David Blott took on about 5,600 people as clients — mostly from the Blood Tribe in southern Alberta — who were applying for compensation for abuse suffered at residential schools.

Blott is accused of failing to properly represent his clients, abusing their trust, putting his own financial interests ahead of theirs, charging excessive fees and even facilitating illegal loans that he allegedly profited from ahead of settlements. 

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Alan Macleod’s decision this week paves the way for thousands of Blott’s former clients to seek damages.

“In my view, leaving class members to bring claims on their own is to effectively abandon most of the former Blott clients,” wrote Macleod in his decision to certify the class action on Tuesday.

CBC News has contacted Blott’s lawyer who has not yet responded. 

Andrew Bull Calf, who spent several years at a residential school on the Blood reserve, said in the lawsuit’s statement of claim that he was told he was going to receive $175,000 in compensation but ended up with $50,000 after paying off legal fees and high interest loans he received through one of the people named in the suit. (Reid Southwick/CBC)

The suit was launched in Calgary in 2013 against Blott and others. Since then, many of the residential school survivors have died while awaiting some type of resolution — including Annie Plume, who was one of the “representative plaintiffs.”

Blott’s clients were applying for compensation for the residential school settlement program in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories.

In his decision, Macleod called the residential school system an “acknowledged stain upon Canada’s relationship with First Nations.”

Mark Brave Rock, 57, who lives on the Blood reserve, says he wants to see an end to the decades of suffering his people have endured. 

“It’s plain simple truth what happened to us. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn-out process, dragging people through more and more of it.

“Let’s get this done with whether it’s money or some decision or he’s banished from Canada. I don’t care. Let’s just get this over with.”

‘It’s plain simple truth what happened to us,’ says Mark Brave Rock, who is hoping for an end to the years-long process.

Many of the children who attended were abused physically, mentally, emotionally and/or sexually. They were also deprived of family and community contact.

Ardith Wells, 64, a residential school survivor who lives on the Blood reserve, said Blott was polite and friendly until the day she was interviewed about her residential school experiences.

Wells said Blott and his team didn’t give her the time she needed to tell her story of abuse. 

“We already got abused by the nuns and the priest, and we were all hurting and crying, and we went for our interview and then he does the other side to us — stealing from us and lying to us.”

“This is a repeat of residential abuse we already went through”

Ernie Black Rabbit , right, of the Blood reserve was one of many residential school survivors who died while waiting for some type of resolution on the class-action lawsuit. Black Rabbit was abused during his 10 years in residential school, but never received any compensation and blamed Blott’s mishandling of his file. (Janice Shingoose)

Max Faille, the class-action lawyer for the residential school survivors, said he’s looking to set a trial date as soon as possible.

“The individual victims here, I mean a lot of them by definition are elderly and unfortunately a number of them have already passed away, so it’s important we get justice for them as quickly as possible, and we don’t see any reason why that shouldn’t happen.”

Clients ‘like cattle,’ says law society

In the statement of claim, the lawsuit alleges Blott and some lenders encouraged, facilitated, arranged and profited from loans to survivor claimants.

“This class of people are vulnerable. They are, for the most part, impecunious,” wrote Macleod.

“It was important to resolve residential claims through the class-action process, and I doubt very much if justice could have been obtained for residential school attendees other than through a class proceeding.”

Lawyer Max Faille, shown here, is representing residential school survivors who allege Blott abused their trust. (Reid Southwick/CBC)

In 2014, a Law Society of Alberta panel found that there were reasonable grounds to believe Blott’s collection of interest rates may have been criminal in nature.

The panel also found “victims of the residential school system were effectively revictimized and treated less like human beings and more like cattle” by Blott.

Blott gave up his licence to practice in 2014 while the law society was still investigating his conduct. He was ultimately disbarred.

According to a CBC News investigation in 2017, Blott was only one of more than 200 Canadian lawyers investigated by their law societies between 2010 and 2015 for questionable practices involving clients and their money.

But most of those lawyers, including Blott, were never charged with any crimes — although charges for criminal activity would have a much higher burden of proof than disciplinary action by a law society.

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