Former national chief lands job at law firm AFN hired to lead class action lawsuit against federal government

When it came time for the Assembly of First Nations to hire a company to lead a multi-billion dollar class action lawsuit against the federal government, Perry Bellegarde likely would have had a say in the decision. Now that same company has hired the former national chief as a special adviser.

But even before then in 2020, Fasken, one of Canada’s leading business law firms, was working for the AFN on tough legal issues — and could potentially receive legal fees for its work on the class action lawsuit. if a proposed $20 billion settlement is approved. .

“A few of our colleagues have known Chief Bellegarde for years,” said Martin Denyes, Fasken’s Ontario Regional Managing Partner, in a Monday release announcing Bellegarde’s hiring.

“More of us have gotten to know him over the past few months as we discussed the possibilities around this opportunity. You can’t help but broaden your view of the world after a good conversation with Perry.”

The AFN has hired Fasken, which employs more than 800 attorneys nationwide and abroad, as outside legal counsel to help it navigate both high-stakes and low-profile situations.

Since 2019, Fasken lawyers have conducted two investigations into the conduct of regional chiefs and defended the AFN against two lawsuits brought by former employees in provincial court.

The release did not mention the company’s longstanding relationship with the APN due to the confidential nature of those arrangements, a company spokesperson said in a statement emailed in response to a query. maintenance.

“Our news relates to the arrival of Chief Bellegarde in the firm and the improvement of our team,” the statement said.

“He joined us because Fasken is a great platform where he can continue his life’s work, continue to engage in meaningful conversations around the Indigenous experience, and bring about transformational change.

Fasken in charge of a harassment investigation

In 2019, the AFN hired Fasken to conduct an investigation into allegations of harassment against Morley Googoo, the AFN Regional Chief for Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, who had been suspended from the era.

Chiefs in the Googoo region voted to remove him a few months later, a day after Fasken investigators completed their report. Googoo would eventually be tried and found not guilty on the sexual assault charges that his lawyer deemed “baseless”.

In January 2020, the AFN filed the class action lawsuit against Canada, seeking compensation for victims of the underfunded First Nations child welfare system. Xavier Moushoom had filed a similar complaint in 2019.

The AFN has decided to take legal action after the organization “was concerned about being left out of discussions related to reform and long-term compensation” taking place in the Moushoom case, according to an affidavit signed this year by AFN CEO Janice Ciavaglia.

Another firm represented the lobby group during the initial filing, but the AFN swapped law firms in August 2020. Fasken has represented the AFN in the case since then, including in confidential talks that led to the proposed settlement, according to court records.

Under this agreement, all legal fees paid to counsel would be negotiated between class counsel and Canada and would have to be approved by the court. Canada would pay those fees separately, not out of the $20 billion, the records show.

The settlement is currently on hold, however, after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal declined last week to rule that the settlement would satisfy the tribunal’s preexisting compensation order from 2019.

Bellegarde watches as Cindy Blackstock, of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, speaks about the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling on discrimination against First Nations children in care, at a press conference in Ottawa, in 2016. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Ciavaglia’s affidavit included a draft copy of an AFN executive committee motion allowing the lawsuit to be filed in 2020, which lists Bellegarde among several other participants in the AFN’s decision to sue.

Bellegarde, a longtime First Nations political leader from Little Black Bear First Nation in Saskatchewan, was elected to serve two consecutive terms as AFN National Chief between 2014 and 2021.

A public relations team that handled the ad did not respond to CBC’s request to interview Bellegarde. In Fasken’s statement, Bellegarde said he looks forward to the new role.

“I know firsthand how important it is for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to connect and understand each other in order to advance human rights and economic prosperity and development,” he said. he said in the statement.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Bellegarde said he plans to work occasionally with corporate clients who are on the other side of issues with Indigenous groups.

The company conducted a preliminary investigation into the current national chief

Fasken’s work for the AFN continued in 2021 when she conducted a preliminary investigation into allegations of bullying against RoseAnne Archibald, who was then Regional Chief for Ontario.

The inquiry concluded that “the allegations and evidence were credible” and the AFN executive ordered a full investigation, for which another company was hired.

At the time, Archibald, who is now national chief, claimed the allegations were retaliation. She had requested a review of the AFN’s financial policies and practices, saying she had documents that showed “financial irregularities” within the AFN.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald at the annual general meeting in Vancouver in July, following the results of a vote on an emergency resolution to keep her suspended. A total of 252 First Nations Chiefs and Trustees voted against the resolution, while only 44 voted in favor. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

A lawyer for Fasken also represented the AFN as a defendant in a $100,000 wrongful dismissal lawsuit filed by former communications officer Gail Boyd in December 2020. The case was dismissed on consent in June 2021.

The same attorney is currently representing the AFN in another wrongful dismissal lawsuit that the organization’s former director of human resources, Robin Henry, filed in June 2022, according to the Ontario Superior Court Registry.

He is claiming $200,000 in damages and has not been tested in court.

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