Feb 26/98: Delgamuukw law firm 'in crisis'


Vancouver Sun
February 26, 1998, p. A6
Stewart Bell

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.
During the 1995 paramilitary operation and armed siege against Shuswap traditionalists defending sacred, unceded Sundance grounds at Gustafsen Lake, lawyer Stuart Rush was secretly advising the RCMP Crisis Management Team on legal matters. Gitxsan lawyer Gordon Sebastian was working with the "Shuswap Liaison Group." The SLG has been described by Shuswap elder and political prisoner Wolverine as "working for the pigs," by lawyer Bruce Clark as "a gaggle of out and out collaborationists," and has been praised by RCMP Media Liaison Peter Montague who said that the SLG and the RCMP "worked tirelessly to achieve a shared goal."]

The Vancouver lawyers who won what has been called the most important aboriginal rights court decision in Canadian history are "in crisis" because they haven't been paid for their work. In a letter leaked Wednesday to The Vancouver Sun, the law firm Rush-Crane-Guenther complains it has been asking for payment for six months but has reveived only "a small portion of what is owed." "This has become a crisis for each of us because we have gone into debt in order to advance your appeal," lawyer Stuart Rush wrote in the Jan.12 letter to his clients, the Gitxsan chiefs.

"We have had to finance this obligation with bank loans. We cannot afford to do so any longer...It is not right that we have not been paid by now," said the letter, leaked by a source outside the firm. The Gastown firm represented the Gitxsan chiefs in their landmark case - known as Delgamuukw - before the BC Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. In its Dec. 11 ruling on the case, the court broadened the definition of aboriginal land rights and said native Indians are owed compensation when their land rights are infringed upon. The ruling was seen as a major victory for BC tribes and has thrown the province's aboriginal treaty-making process into confusion as Victoria rethinks its approach to settling land claims.

Rush said in his letter the firm worked "non-stop" on the case at discount fees, but his requests for payment were not answered. Although the lawyers were paid $11,000 on Oct. 23, $190,000 remains outstanding, he said. "On Dec.19 we were advised that arrangements would be made with the bank to pay our legal fees. We were told that by Jan.9, 1998, our bills would be paid," but they weren't the letter said. Gordon Sebastian, a former Gitxsan leader and coordinator of the tribe's legal effort, said Wednesday the chiefs "were quite upset with them for sending that letter out." Sebastian said the chiefs gave the lawyers all the money they received from the federal government's test-case funding program, which finances ground-breaking court challenges.

The problem was that Ottawa pays $100 an hour and "they wanted more," Sebastian said. The tribe cannot get a loan to pay the lawyers and can't take the money from health and welfare grants, he said. So chiefs have been holding feasts to raise money, he said. "They've been receiving money through the feast system. They've received about 20,000, so payments are being made." Sebastian would not say how much more the tribe planned to pay the lawyers, but said "we still owe them a good portion of that yet." Reached at his law office, Rush said he could not comment."I can't really talk about my correspondence with my clients."

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Full text of December 11, 1997 ruling:

Index of Delgamuukw/Gitksan articles, analysis, and commentary:

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