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Residential schools lawyer case leads to discipline process review

Regulator moves to “address the unique needs of Indigenous people”
A recent decision said between 2009 and 2015, Stephen John Bronstein acted for 624 school survivors who made claims as part of B.C.’s Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement

A review of B.C.’s legal profession regulator’s discipline practices would help it better serve the public, but particularly First Nations people, a report from its president says.

Law Society of B.C. president Dean Lawton said such a review was suggested in the recent disciplinary decision regarding lawyer Stephen John Bronstein, who was suspended for one month and fined $4,000 for his handling of residential school clients’ abuse compensation claims.

The decision said between 2009 and 2015, Stephen John Bronstein acted for 624 school survivors who made claims as part of B.C.’s Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

“His practice consisted almost exclusively of Indian residential school claims,” the society said in a May 20 decision, noting that under the agreement, Canada paid Bronstein’s firm $10.5 million in legal fees in relation to those claims.

The decision, said the firm, in some cases, kept a larger percentage of settlement amounts than allowed. Bronstein admitted professional misconduct in 17 clients’ cases.

“Our experience in the Bronstein matter demonstrates a need for a review to ensure that the law society’s regulatory processes are responsive and accessible to all,” Lawton said in a report to be presented to society benchers July 9. “Such a review would implement the initiative in our current strategic plan to address the unique needs of Indigenous people within law society regulatory processes.”

A July 2 backgrounder for Lawton’s report said the Bronstein decision “raised serious questions about the ability of the law society’s regulatory process to engage, address and accommodate marginalized complainants and witnesses, particularly Indigenous persons.”

The backgrounder said a task force examining changes should include:

  • an analysis of the effects on Indigenous complainants of the processes used to gather, assess, introduce and submit evidence during investigations and hearings;
  • an analysis of the nature and goals of proceedings that involve Indigenous people and Indigenous communities;
  • consideration and comparison of differences between Indigenous perspectives regarding conflict resolution, and the conventional approach of the society and to investigation, discipline and adjudication;
  • consideration of how to incorporate Indigenous perspectives into society
  • complaints, investigation, discipline and procedures;
  • consideration of the use of culturally competent expertise in Indigenous issues by society staff, outside counsel; and
  • identification of actions to prevent and remedial measures to address the impacts of members’ misconduct on Indigenous complainants and Indigenous communities.

Once a task force is appointed, it would be expected to present its work plan to the society board in September.

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