The chairman of the Tilhqot’in National Government claims that the body that regulates the legal profession in British Columbia failed to “appropriately condemn” a lawyer who recruited a paroled killer later accused of extorting money from clients seeking reparations from residential schools.
Last month, the Law Society of British Columbia agreed to Stephen Bronstein’s proposal of a one-month suspension and a $4,000 fine in exchange for his admission of professional misconduct. Bronstein stated that he did not properly examine accusations concerning Ivon Johnny, an ex-convict hired by Bronstein to assist and contact Tilhqot‘in First Nation clients.
The sentence has sparked an “outcry,” according to Tilhqot’in Nation chair Nits’ilin (Chief) Joe Alphonse, with many questioning the law society’s decision-making process and commitment to assist society’s most vulnerable. Alphonse’s remarks come after a three-person legal society disciplinary panel tasked with penalizing Bronstein was split.
Even the two members who voted for the majority judgment agreed that the decision could be interpreted as “unduly lenient.” The dissent was submitted by the first Indigenous woman to be elected to one of the 25 “benchers” who supervise the legal profession’s code of conduct. Karen Snowshoe called the penalty “grossly inadequate” for “egregious” behavior.
Between 2009 and 2015, Bronstein’s business represented 624 survivors of Indian residential schools who won $70 million through the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. He represented Johnny, a survivor of a residential school, in an earlier claim resolution process. Johnny was freed on day parole in 2005, 20 years after being convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to prison.
Bronstein employed Johnny as a “form filler” in the Williams Lake area to help claimants with their applications, witness signatures, and make contact with clients. Bronstein’s firm got a number of complaints concerning Johnny’s behavior between 2009 and 2012.
A court employee alleged that he was extorting money from clients. A woman called to explain that her brother had sent Johnny $20,000 as a gift. Another caller, who was not a client of Bronstein’s, stated Johnny was “evil” and “ripped off a lot of people.”
Bronstein discussed the charges with Johnny, but Johnny denied taking any money.