Merchant Defends Conduct In Legal Fees Dispute

Thursday, February 08, 2007 at 15:50



A group of residential school survivors held a protest outside Regina lawyer Tony Merchant’s office yesterday.


They’re upset a dispute over legal fees between the Merchant Law Group and Ottawa is threatening to delay compensation payments even further.


They used the demonstration to call on Merchant to open his books to the federal government, which wants to verify that Merchant’s group deserves to be paid as much as $40 million for outstanding legal fees.


He maintains government accountants were allowed to review all of his firm’s books and records not covered by solicitor-client privilege. Merchant says the government insists on reviewing his clients’ personal files — something he says many of his peers agree would be a violation of solicitor-client privilege.


Merchant accuses government officials of trying to make him out to be the villain in this affair, when he feels it’s clear it’s the government that’s holding up this process.


Merchant also says he now doubts any cheques will be coming to survivors before November or December.


He adds the compensation process will be slowed down even further if the government delays the opt-out process, like they’ve recently indicated.


Merchant also believes the government is posturing itself for more delaying tactics down the road.


Meanwhile, FSIN vice-chief Lyle Whitefish says while it was Merchant who got the ball rolling on the residential schools file, he also feels it isn’t unreasonable for Ottawa to want a full accounting of the legal fees.


However, Whitefish says that should be a separate process from the issuing of compensation payments, and it shouldn’t be at the expense of the survivors.


Whitefish says he also wants to believe Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice when he says the legal squabble won’t delay the payments. He says it’s up to Prentice to keep his word.