A lawyer who oversaw a successful class-action lawsuit connected to a major land claim dispute in Ontario has been accused of misappropriating more than a million dollars from the settlement.
Hamilton police say John Wallace Findlay turned himself in to the Law Society of Ontario more than a year ago after allegedly spending the reserve funds from the 2011 class action filed by residents and businesses involved in the years-long dispute near Caledonia, Ont.
The Law Society said Thursday that Findlay came forward and said he had used "and was unable to replenish trust funds that the Superior Court had ordered him to hold in reserve for final distribution to class members in a class action."
The court had ordered Findlay to hold $1.5 million in reserve. Police allege Findlay spent the money in reserve.
Police said they arrested the 64-year-old lawyer on Wednesday and charged him with criminal breach of trust, fraud over $5,000 and theft over $5,000.
Findlay was released on bail and is slated to appear in court later this month.
The Law Society suspended Findlay in June 2017 and has commenced proceedings against him for allegedly engaging in professional misconduct, according to the society's spokesperson Gelek Badheytsang
Findlay represented more than 800 plaintiffs in the class-action suit and was responsible for overseeing the dispersal of the $20-million settlement reached with the Ontario government in 2011.
In February 2006, members of the Six Nations reserve near Caledonia began a blockade of a nearby residential development called the Douglas Creek Estates, arguing the land rightfully belonged to them.
The protest sparked a bitter standoff that at times flared into violence, injuries and property damage.
It also became a point of political contention, with the opposition accusing the Liberal government of mishandling the situation and the province arguing the federal government was partly responsible.
Some homeowners and businesses near the site complained that provincial police weren't enforcing the law with Six Nations demonstrators but were heavy handed with Caledonia residents and their supporters.
At one point, provincial police moved in on the protesters but were forced to withdraw.
The class action was filed on behalf of about 440 residents, 400 businesses and some subcontractors, all of whom claimed the ongoing protests caused them significant inconvenience or even financial hardship.
When the suit was settled in 2011, proceeds were to be divided among residents and business owners who suffered direct losses as a result of the protests.
According to the decision from the Law Society's suspension, Findlay failed to distribute the final funds after a court order in January 2017.
On May 29, 2017, Findlay sent an email to the Law Society about the funds.
"Following the initial distribution of the settlement funds there were funds that were held back pending final direction from the court," he wrote.
"I have used the holdback funds and I was not able to replenish the funds before effecting the final distribution."
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said police alleged Findlay had taken $2.2 million. In fact police said the reserve fund contained $2.2 million in 2013 and alleged Findlay used the money in the trust by 2017, but didn't specify an amount.