Michael Ford (post until Oct. 31/18)

Lawyer who oversaw Caledonia class action charged with fraud: police

A lawyer who oversaw a successful class action lawsuit connected to a major land claim dispute in Ontario has been accused of misappropriating millions of 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 suit, which was filed by residents and businesses impacted by the years-long dispute near Caledonia, Ont.

The Law Society did not immediately respond to request for comment, but police allege Findlay took roughly $2.2 million dollars.

Police say 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.

He represented the 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.

Hamilton police say Findlay's alleged misappropriation took place after at least one round of payments.

They allege the money he took was from reserve funds left over in 2013.

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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