Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lawyers sued for $8.4M over cottage loss

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Several families who lost their Lake of the Woods cottages when an Indian band refused to renew their leases are now suing their former Winnipeg lawyers for $8.4 million.

The families, incorporated as the Devil's Gap Cottagers, allege that the law firm of Duboff Edwards Haight and Schachter, and lawyers William Haight and Kimberley Gilson, mishandled their case against the Rat Portage Indian band.

The families allege their lawyers told them they had six years to file a statement of claim against Rat Portage and when a claim for $8.4 million against the band was being prepared, the families learned they only had two years and the deadline had passed several months earlier.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

There has been no statement of defence filed.

Kevin Edwards, spokesman for the families, said the dollar amount sought in the suit reflects the valuation of the cottage properties and the loss suffered by the families.

A spokesman for the law firm could not be reached for comment.

The Devil's Gap site is a picturesque 10-acre parcel of land about five kilometres southeast of Kenora, opposite Treaty Island.

The group known as Devil's Gap Cottagers is made up of 33 families, with all but one of those families from Winnipeg. Most of cottagers had been living there since the 1970s. Many cottages in the area sell on the open market for several hundreds of thousands of dollars and more.

Renewal of leases for cottage property on Indian lands had been considered a formality until a dispute over back rent broke out between the Rat Portage band and the cottagers. While the cottagers maintained previous band councils had authorized lease extensions until 2020, the arrangement was never formalized and the new Rat Portage band council insisted the cottagers owed back rent and refused to renew the lease when it expired at the end of 2007.

Before the lease expired, the families allege that their lawyers said the best way to get their cottages back was to seek a judicial review of the band's decision in Federal Court. But the Federal Court ruled in June 2008 that it didn't have jurisdiction to overrule the band and added the families could file a civil action to recover their losses.

The families said the lawyers told them they had a six-year time period following the band's decision to launch a civil action to recover what their cottages were worth but when the lawyers were drafting the documents in the spring of 2010 they learned that the statute of limitations in Ontario was two years and that had expired in October 2009.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 3, 2011 B3

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