A First Nation in B.C.’s Cariboo region is condemning the B.C. Law Society’s handling of a Vancouver lawyer’s mishandling of residential school survivor cases.
Stephen Bronstein was suspended for one month and fined $4,000 after admitting to mishandling the cases of Sixties Scoop survivors. He was also barred from acting as counsel for any Sixties Scoop claimants in the future.
The Sixties Scoop was a large-scale program that allowed child welfare organizations to remove Indigenous children from their families and place them in the foster care system and allow them to be adopted by white families.
The Tŝilhqot’in Nation on Wednesday condemned the law society for not adequately punishing Bronstein, noting that many of his clients were from the First Nation.
“The failure to appropriately condemn this misconduct, is yet another injustice and stain on the handling of the victims and survivors of residential schools,” said Chief Joe Alphonse in a statement. “Bronstein failed to protect his clients and created a situation of further victimization and trauma for survivors.”
According to the law society, Bronstein did not investigate the background of a contractor he had hired before allowing him to work with, and have unsupervised access to, residential school survivor clients who were applying for compensation under the Independent Assessment Process, an out-of-court settlement process.
The law society also found that Bronstein failed to investigate or address complaints that his contractor was demanding that clients hand over a portion of the settlement money they received.
Bronstein also admitted to providing “inadequate service” to 17 clients by not document important communications properly, by not replying to some communications and failing to inform clients and advance their claims in a “timely” manner.
“He admitted to misconduct in his handling of declarations signed by the clients, by directing staff to remove the declarations clients signed on their original Independent Assessment Process application forms and attaching the declarations to revised forms which clients approved over the telephone without seeing them,” the law society stated.
The Tŝilhqot’in pointed to a dissenting opinion written by the law society’s hearing panel which described the disciplinary action as “grossly inadequate.”
In her dissenting opinion, Karen L. Snowshoe wrote that she did “not find that the proposed disciplinary actions fall within the range of fair and reasonable disciplinary actions, in all the circumstances.”
Alphonse said that the outcome of the law society’s hearing “makes a mockery of justice” for residential school and Sixties Scoop survivors.
“This case needed further investigation into the serious claims being made about (contractor) Ivan Johnny’s intimidation and extortion of clients,” he said. “It took a lot of courage for witnesses to come forward, and this is what they have to show for it – nothing. Bronstein basically got off with no repercussion.”