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Trudeau’s ‘less than ideal’ comment doesn’t begin to capture the concerns of Indigenous communities

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the arrest of 14 Wet’suwet’en land defenders a “less than ideal situation” this week, adding everyone has the right to protest, as long as they respect the rule of law.

Let’s unpack that for a moment. A “less than ideal situation” is missing the sale on three-ply Kleenex at Shopper’s Drug Mart and having to settle for two-ply instead.

A land defender is tackled to the ground by an RCMP officer in tactical gear after police breached the Gitimt'en checkpoint barricade on Monday, January 7, 2019. Fourteen people were arrested at the barricade.
A land defender is tackled to the ground by an RCMP officer in tactical gear after police breached the Gitimt’en checkpoint barricade on Monday, January 7, 2019. Fourteen people were arrested at the barricade.  (Jesse Winter / Star Metro)

A “less than ideal situation” is locking your keys in your car.

The arrests of 14 people by heavily armed RCMP officers over an issue that will loom large in the 2019 federal election — adherence to Indigenous human rights and land title? Less than ideal doesn’t capture it.

As this week again showed, on a number of important fronts, the Trudeau government’s relations with Indigenous communities are nowhere near ideal.

Take the situation that transpired in an Ottawa hearing room on Wednesday, as Canada once again found itself arguing against Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Family and Caring Society. At issue was which children are Indigenous enough, according to the Indian Act (a paternalistic law created in 1876 that governs the lives of all Status Indians in this country), and therefore who should qualify for services under Jordan’s Principle, which aims to ensure all Indigenous kids receive equitable care no matter where they live.

Read more:

Agreement reached in Wet’suwet’en, Coastal GasLink land dispute

RCMP and Wet’suwet’en chiefs strike tentative deal

Wet’suwet’en land defenders rally after 14 arrests, retreat from Gitimt’en checkpoint: ‘We lose this, we lose our culture’

At the end of the hearing, Blackstock said “nobody had an answer as to what will happen to children” in need of urgent care for life-threatening conditions while the tribunal process continues — or, more to the point, who will pay for their care. At least until the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal meets again to discuss this issue in March, children will remain at risk.

She added the society has offered to sit down and mediate directly with the government.

Blackstock will never support using Canada’s Indian Act blood quantum method to determine who is, or is not, First Nations. Belonging should be decided by the Indigenous communities themselves, not by Ottawa.

“Our ancestors were distinct First Nations citizens before the Indian Act and so are we,” Blackstock eloquently tweeted.

Time and time again, Canada fails to understand the importance of Indigenous law and the sacred bonds with the land and communities.

This was evident, too, in the “less than ideal” situation playing out in northern British Columbia this week. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are caretakers of 22,000 square kilometres not covered by any treaty. Hereditary chiefs have protected the land, on behalf of families, since before Canada existed.

This isn’t a part-time job; it is a sacred duty.

When it came time to “consult” on the proposed $6.2 billion Coastal GasLink pipeline, the hereditary chiefs, unlike the chiefs and band councils, were left out.

On Wednesday, in the interests of the safety of the land defenders, Wet’suwet’en chiefs struck an interim agreement to give the company temporary access behind the gates.

This isn’t over by a long stretch, warned the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) Grand Chief Stewart Phillip.

It is neither “adequate nor substantial” for companies and governments to deal with the elected band councils and then turn around and say we have done our consultation work, Phillip said.

The 675-kilometre pipeline project could be further delayed if the National Energy Board decides that the pipeline falls under federal, not just provincial, jurisdiction, he said. That would mean environmental hearings would take place.

For the prime minister, the Site C Dam on the Peace River presents yet another situation that is far from ideal. And it is one that has caught the attention of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which was first reported by The Narwhal, an online investigative news site (full disclosure: I am a volunteer on The Narwhal’s board of directors.)

The U.N. body has ordered that Canada suspend construction on the 1,100 megawatt hydro dam, which would flood 128 kilometres of the Peace River in Treaty 8 territory. The UBCIC has launched a civil suit against construction.

“The committee is concerned about the alleged lack of measures taken to ensure the right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent with regard to the Site C dam, considering its impact on Indigenous peoples control and use of their lands and natural resources,” said the Dec. 14, 2018 letter that was sent to Rosemary McCarney, Canada’s ambassador to the UN.

The committee gave Canada until April 8, 2019 to respond.

Now, prime minister, that is less than ideal.

Tanya Talaga is a Toronto-based columnist covering Indigenous issues. Follow her on Twitter: @tanyatalaga



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Personal Injury firm to pay an estimated $4 million to settle class-action with former clients

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A personal injury law firm has agreed to pay an estimated $4 million to settle claims that the firm double-dipped from the settlements of nearly 1,800 accident victims it represented.

The settlement between Neinstein & Associates LLP, a prominent personal injury law firm, and its clients was approved Wednesday by Justice Paul Perell.

Cassie Hodge, one of nearly 1,800 accident victims who joined a class-action lawsuit against Neinstein & Associates LLP. The firm has agreed to pay an estimated $4 million to settle the claims.
Cassie Hodge, one of nearly 1,800 accident victims who joined a class-action lawsuit against Neinstein & Associates LLP. The firm has agreed to pay an estimated $4 million to settle the claims.  (Andrew Lahodynskyj / Toronto Star)

Perell’s sign-off on the settlement effectively ends a class-action lawsuit that was certified in June 2017 but never made it to trial.

At the time the class-action commenced, lawyers working on contingency — “you don’t pay unless we win” — were not allowed to take a sum of money called “costs” in addition to a percentage of the settlement, according to the Solicitor’s Act governing lawyers.

In 2012, the roughly 1,800 class members alleged that Gary Neinstein and the law firm breached provincial law and their “fiduciary duties because they charged an amount for costs” in addition to the fee spelled out in their contingency fee agreement, according to Perell’s settlement approval decision. The firm denied the allegations.

Jeff Neinstein, managing partner of Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers, told the Star in an email his firm is “pleased that this issue has been resolved.”

“We appreciate the trust and confidence that our clients have continued to place in us and we remain dedicated to providing compassionate legal representation for all victims across Ontario.”

During a brief hearing in a second-floor courtroom at downtown Toronto’s Osgoode Hall, Perell additionally approved $1 million in legal fees and assorted charges incurred during the litigation for plaintiff lawyers Peter Waldmann and Andrew Stein, plus a $10,000 honorarium to accident victim Cassie Hodge, the 46-year-old mother of two at the heart of the case.

Waldmann, who represented Hodge and the other class members, said the settlement is “a compromise,” but he is pleased the accident victims are getting some remedy.

A Star investigation that began in 2016 found personal injury lawyers in Ontario had routinely taken their fees then also taken the “costs,” which a Divisional Court judge had called “double dipping.” As a result, the Star story said, many Ontario residents had been overcharged thousands of dollars and likely did not know it.

On the heels of the Star’s findings, the Law Society of Ontario decided to make changes to the way personal injury lawyers can advertise their services, bill their clients and charge and collect referral fees.

“When this issue was first raised, it became clear that there was confusion regarding the interpretation of the Solicitors Act,” Jeff Neinstein said Wednesday. “We took these concerns very seriously. We worked collaboratively to ensure that these issues were responsibly addressed. We are proud of the work that we do and continue to promote access to justice.”

In his settlement approval order, Justice Perell said negotiations between both sides were “intensive.” He said the settlement is “a good result for the class particularly having regard to the litigation risks and the long litigation road that would await them.”

As part of the settlement, a class member could get 30 per cent of what Neinstein referred to on his accounts as costs, the court said, provided she or he signed or amended a contingency fee agreement with the firm after October 1, 2004 and paid their fees before December 9, 2015.

Their cases must also have settled for at least $40,000 and their bills included at least $15,000 for an amount the firm called “party and party costs,” “partial indemnity costs” or another term using equivalent language.

Perell said that he awarded Hodge the honorarium to pay her personal expenses during the case and “to acknowledge her extraordinary contribution.”

Hodge’s battle against Neinstein began in 2010 after the law firm settled her car accident case for $150,000, sending her a final account that included charges for “legal fees” of $30,326 and “costs” of $30,000. She was also charged for $48,924 of “disbursements,” charges incurred by the lawyer in the course of litigation, which included $4,008 for photocopies, $2,791 for “laser copies,” and $1,372 for “interest recovery,” according to an earlier appeal court ruling that upheld the certification of the class.

Hodge alleges she was left with a fraction of her settlement.

Hodge had retained the Neinstein firm after a 2002 accident that left her with a concussion, whiplash, a retinal tear, soft tissue injures and chronic pain.

“Justice is served,” Hodge said outside the courtroom after the hearing. “Now people are aware of what was happening at law firms, and they know that they do have recourse.”

Michele Henry is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow her on Twitter: @michelehenry

Kenyon Wallace is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @KenyonWallace or reach him via email: kwallace@thestar.ca



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Westmount Park Elementary School students to be temporarily relocated to 2 separate buildings – Montreal

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A contentious plan to split Westmount Park Elementary School students up during a two-year renovation blitz is officially moving forward.

The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) announced at a special meeting on Wednesday that students will be temporarily transferred to two different buildings for the duration of the project.

READ MORE: English Montreal School Board parents weigh in on disputed school moves

Students will be relocated to Marymount Academy in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and the former St. John Bosco Elementary School in Ville Émard for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years.

Both locations will house kindergarten to Grade 6 students in order not to split up siblings, according to the school board.

The $12.5-million overhaul of the elementary school, which was built in 1913, will fix major structural issues.

READ MORE: Parents voice concerns over relocation of students at Westmount Park School

The plan has been met with both praise and concern from parents at school board meetings. Some said they were worried about where their kids will be transferred and separated from their friends.

At a consultation meeting last week, parents of Marymount students also voiced concerns over taking in hundreds of Westmount Park students.

WATCH: Westmount Park Elementary School students will have to move out of their school for two years






New French immersion school delayed

After announcing last October it would open a new French immersion school in NDG in September 2019, the school board says those plans have now been pushed back.

The elementary school was slated to open at 4850 Coronation Ave. — but now that building could instead house students from three other EMSB schools that are currently overcrowded.

READ MORE: English Montreal School Board plans to open new French immersion school in NDG

The EMSB says it is considering its options and that it will consult with the schools and their committees.

A decision is expected to be made by the school board’s council of commissioners on Feb. 20.

— With files from Global’s Elysia Bryan Baynes

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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RCMP seek help finding Canadian actress and nephew ‘considered missing’ from Kamloops since Sunday

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Kamloops RCMP are asking for the public’s assistance locating a six-year-old boy and his 28-year-old aunt, actress Roseanne Supernault

RCMP say they received a report on Sunday to check on the well-being of Nikaeo Supernault who was being looked after by his aunt.

They say the boy and his aunt have not been in contact with the boy’s mother since Jan. 13, and the pair is « considered missing. »

Police say they believe the boy is with his aunt.

Roseanne Supernault, a Métis/Cree actress, has starred in several TV series, including Blackstone, Strange Empire and The Drive, as well as the independent film, Neither Wolf Nor Dog.

Metis/Cree actress Rosanne Supernault in the film Neither Wolf nor Dog that played in select theatres across Canada in 2017. (InYo Entertainment)

Police describe six-year-old Nikaeo as three feet six inches tall, 45 pounds with light brown hair, brown eyes and wearing a blue jacket, black pants and tan boots.

His aunt, Roseanne, is five feet seven inches tall, 190 pounds, dyed blonde hair, brown eyes, wearing a black jacket with white fur on the hood, jeans and black boots.

The Kamloops RCMP is asking anyone with information on their whereabouts to contact them at 1-250-828-3000 or make an anonymous report to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.



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