BY JONATHON GATEHOUSE • Canada’s residential schools survivors are a step closer to finally receiving their long-sought compensation. Last week, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal dismissed a federal government challenge over legal fees that had threatened to derail the historic deal, handing controversial Regina lawyer Tony Merchant a partial victory.
Merchant, who claims to represent as many as 10,000 former students of the churchand state-run native school system, had been seeking $50 million for his firm’s work prior to the class-action settlement. Ottawa balked at the bill, with Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice telling Maclean’s that the lawyer would not receive “one red penny” without submitting his accounts to independent auditors. But the Court of Appeal has agreed with a lower court judge, ruling that the verification agreement Ottawa signed with Merchant only covers fees in excess of $25 million.
Settling now for 50 cents on the dollar may well be a wise investment for the Merchant Law Group. Under its client agreements, the firm stands to reap tens of millions more after the deal kicks in Sept. 20, and tribunals start awarding individual compensation to those who suffered physical and sexual abuse.
So far, 2007 has been a tough year for the Merchants. In January, Matthew, one of the three lawyer sons of Tony and his wife Pana, a Liberal senator, was disbarred by the Law
Society of Alberta for threatening clients and deliberately misleading the court. The decision is under appeal. In February, a B.C. court awarded a former Merchant client $300,000, ruling the firm had improperly taken a huge slice of an accident settlement, and behaved in a “reprehensible” manner. This week, Sally Merchant, the clan matriarch, died at 88. M
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