Residential school lawyer scammed victims: Law Society

Participants at a conference examining the effects of residential schools are shown in February. A Manitoba lawyer is accused of taking some $400,000 from victims.

A Manitoba lawyer, accused of taking almost $400,000 from residential school survivors, said Thursday it was a misunderstanding.

And the man, who represented more than two dozen of the victims who suffered years of abuse at the hands of those who ran Indian Residential Schools in Canada decades ago, has vowed to pay back the money.

About 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were placed in more than 130 residential schools across Canada from the late 1870s until the last school closed in 1996.

The schools were government-funded and meant to force the assimilation of young aboriginal people into European-Canadian society.

But some were physically, sexually and psychologically abused at the schools.

Thousands of Canadians were compensated by the Canadian government for the abuse, but were required to hire lawyers to collect the payments.

These lawyers were given a portion of the settlement as payment for their services. Under the agreement, the legal counsel was entitled to 15 per cent of the compensation, but the lawyer can ask for an additional 15 per cent if approved by the adjudicator hearing the case.

Law Society officials accused the lawyer who represented 26 survivors of taking more than he was entitled to.

But the man, who cannot be named because the allegations have not yet been proven, told CBC News in a telephone interview that he misunderstood the payment agreement.

"I made a mistake. I'll pay them back and that's what I'm doing right now," he said.

But Allan Fineblit, a representative for the Law Society of Manitoba, said since the lawyer had more than 30 years of experience he should have known.

"I think in a case like this, (where) you're dealing with the vulnerable, you have a much higher duty than you might in other circumstances," he said.

The Law Society said the accused lawyer has until May 30 to pay back all the money and so far has not missed a payment.