First they were abused at residential school. Then they were each charged thousands in fees by the very attorney who was supposed to help them obtain redress.
Fifty-five residential school survivors in Manitoba are getting their due, reimbursed for a total of nearly $1 million in fees that Howard Tennenhouse charged them collectively for negotiating their compensation under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
Tennenhouse was disbarred on Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to charging the survivors $932,501.80 as fees, APTN reported. This was in addition to the 15 percent that the government pays attorneys on each settled claim, and should only have been levied if approved by an adjudicator, according to CBC News.
He was allegedly using the money to buy foreign real estate, APTN said.
Tennenhouse was one of hundreds of attorneys helping survivors across Canada navigate the Independent Assessment Process of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which pays redress to former students for the physical and sexual abuse they suffered at the schools. More than 130 schools were run throughout the country from the 1800s to the 1990s. About 80,000 of the 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit students are still living.
"Many of these people are elderly, some of them are not in good health, and it's very important they get the money, like, right away," Allan Fineblit, the law society's chief executive officer, told CBC News of the affected clients. "Getting in touch with them is difficult because they don't live in Winnipeg. Many of them don't have telephones. A lot of them don't speak English as their first language. So it may take a little bit of time."
APTN said the clients are being reimbursed by Tennenhouse, who has already repaid about half the money, and the Law Society of Manitoba, which told the network it would refund the balance to survivors immediately and deal with the attorney for the remainder. He will also pay the Law Society $57,512 toward its investigative costs, APTN said.
Client complaints sparked the inquiry, CBC News and APTN said. They were not the first overcharging allegations. The National Residential School Survivors' Society said earlier this month that attorneys nationwide are pushing the envelope on survivor claims and fees, CBC News reported on February 2. The society represents about 32,000 former students and has asked for tighter reins on attorneys found taking advantage of compensation applicants.
"We get complaints regarding lawyers—lawyers cherry-picking certain cases, only taking cases which are lucrative, and denying the little people," society spokesman Ted Quewezance told reporters, according to CBC News.