New details have emerged about the controversial multi-million dollar legal bill from the Roman Catholic Church paid from a fund intended for residential school survivors.
In documents obtained by CBC News on Friday, one of the church’s attorneys admits the money came from that fund and said everything was done with the full approval of the 50 Canadian “Catholic entities” contributing to the fund.
Legal and ethical experts interviewed on Friday said they were horrified, calling it another example of the betrayal of survivors by the Catholic Church.
“Church officials and the lawyers and other professionals they have retained to silence residential school survivors should not sleep peacefully,” said Arthur Schafer, founding director of the Center for Professional and Applied Ethics at the ‘University of Manitoba at Winnipeg.
According to the documents, W. Rod Donlevy and his firm of Saskatoon McKercher LLP and Pierre L. Baribeau and his firm of Montreal Lavery Lawyers each received $ 1.1 million for legal and consulting work related to the Settlement Agreement. Indian Residential Schools (CRSIR) in 2005. Other firms working on the case for the Catholic Church also received a total of approximately $ 500,000.
The $ 2.7 million in legal fees were paid from a fund to compensate residential school survivors for sexual and physical abuse, cultural shame, medical experimentation, malnutrition and other deprivation suffered in the 70 percent of Canadian residential schools run by the Catholic Church.
Testifying in a 2015 case, Baribeau said the billings were necessary because of all the additional work required. Baribeau died in November 2020, while Donlevy died in December 2014. No one from the McKercher or Lavery law firms agreed to an interview with CBC on Friday.
None of the other churches involved in the IRSSA – United, Presbyterian, or Anglican – have deducted legal fees from their payments to survivors.
The documents come from the 2015 case
The documents were part of the court record in a 2015 case involving the federal government and Catholic entities that signed the settlement agreement. The government argued that the church violated the 2005 IRSSA by failing to pay and diverting funds elsewhere.
The Catholic Church has made three promises to help survivors as part of the IRSSA.
First, he promised to “do his best” to raise $ 25 million, but he only raised $ 3.9 million.
Second, it has pledged to provide $ 25 million in “in-kind services”. No Catholic entity contacted by CBC News this month has agreed to provide a full list of such services. In the documents from the 2015 case, the church’s own accountant admitted that “he had not audited these records and accounts, had no basis upon which to assess these services and relied only on minutes of meetings “provided by Catholic officials.
Third, the church has pledged $ 29 million in cash to programs directly benefiting survivors. The $ 2.7 million in legal fees – along with millions more in administration, delinquent loans and other expenses – has been taken out of this pot.
In his affidavit in the 2015 case, Baribeau said the Catholic Church was asked to undertake more work than initially planned, such as participating in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and disclosing the records of “missing children and anonymous graves “.
“There were many meetings with government officials… they met quite frequently,” Baribeau said in his affidavit.
He said these additional activities and tasks were “obviously obvious” to all parties from the start. This includes his dual role and that of Donlevy in allocating and receiving funds.
The transcript shows a grueling exchange between the lawyers
Baribeau was also questioned as a witness to the case in a Toronto office in 2014.
In a transcript of that interrogation, produced by federal government lawyer Alexander Gay, Baribeau admitted that representatives of the 50 Catholic groups involved approved of the scenario.
He testified that “not only did we advise them, we did not ask to be directors, we were invited to be directors by the AGM of the Catholic entities. And it was understood by all the members that we would always continue in as lawyers or as agents of the company.
In the transcript, Gay repeatedly asked Baribeau about the work billed for the consultation. Baribeau admitted to charging all legal fees for acting as a consultant to the Catholic Church at meetings for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other events. At one point, another church lawyer, Gordon J. Kuski, interrupted.
“I think we can get to the bottom of it without too much fencing,” Kuski said.
Gay said he was “astonished” that Baribeau could not remember the basic details of the deal, especially since he drafted it and was in front of him at the time.
Kuski intervened again.
“Mr. Gay, we have come here in the hope and expectation that the speech is not heated: we are teaching him a lesson. We tell him that it is remarkable that he does not know this or that he does not know it. to get us anywhere, ”Kuski said.
Kuski, with Donlevy sitting next to him as co-counsel, then advised Baribeau not to answer Gay’s question.
Gay tried to ask Baribeau more questions, but Baribeau complained about Gay’s tone.
Baribeau: “Sir, you are not respectful and I will -“
Gay: “I am extremely respectful.”
Baribeau: “No, you are not at all. You are not at all, sir.”
Gay: “And I ask the question, what if you could allow me to ask my question.”
Baribeau: “No, you are not at all respectful.”
“Morally shabby and legally dubious”
The 2015 case was supposed to verify whether legal fees and other expenses were eligible and whether the Catholic Church had honored its commitment to survivors. On the eve of the hearing, Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench Judge Neil Gabrielson accepted Kuski’s controversial request for a settlement and the case was dismissed.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a former Saskatchewan Provincial Court judge and director of the Center for Residential Schools History and Dialogue at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said she couldn’t believe that all of this was allowed.
She said the new documents “demonstrate another level of arrogance on the part of representatives of Catholic entities, such as the refusal to answer basic questions.”
Turpel-Lafond analyzed the transcripts at the request of CBC News. She said Gay and the other federal attorney, Anne McConnville, had done a great job unearthing the violations committed by the church, although she was never held accountable.
“Canada had legal counsel on this issue… who was prepared to stand up to these bullies,” she said.
CBC News asked for an interview with an official at the McKercher and Lavery law firms on Friday.
“McKercher’s policy is not to discuss the details of a past or present client file and as such we will not be able to access your interview request,” said Veronica A. Bendig, director of the ‘McKercher holding, in an email Friday afternoon.
Lavery’s senior communications advisor, Jean-François Lemieux, sent an email response.
“Client-lawyer privilege prohibits us from revealing or confirming any specific information relating to this case. Notwithstanding the existence of the dispute … concerning the deductibility of certain fees or expenses by our customers, the case has been settled. understand that this whole matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of the parties and the tribunal, ”Lemieux wrote.
No one from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops returned an interview request this week.
Schafer, of the Center for Professional and Applied Ethics, said these and other revelations showed a Catholic Church with little respect for the most vulnerable in society.
“The failure of the Catholic Church to honor the letter or the spirit of its commitment to properly compensate residential school victims is both morally shabby and legally questionable,” Schafer said.
“The Roman Catholic Church had little moral credibility left after the scandals of sexual abuse and priest cover-ups. This latest scandal must finally eliminate all remaining illusions.”