Calgary Herald

CITY & REGION

Monday, November 28, 2005 B 9

Calgary Herald

Profile

Neighbourhood bully set lawyer's course

 

 

An early incident with a bully set lawyer Vaughn Marshall
on a path that sees him standing up for the abused.

 

 

Leanne Dohy, Calgary Herald

Published: Monday, November 28, 2005, Page B-9

It wasn't the first time the neighbourhood bully had knocked into then 15-year-old Vaughn Marshall on the rough streets of west Edmonton's Jasper Place.

It wasn't even the most painful encounter. There'd been plenty of those.

"I'm only 5-91/2 now," Marshall says. "I wasn't a big kid. The guy went on to be a Golden Gloves boxer. He beat me up many times."

This time, though, Marshall's new best friend was with him when he took the shoulder check.

"Robert said, 'Cut it out. You can't do that,' " Marshall says. "It was my first experience with the whole idea of standing up for someone. It was huge."

It was also, he says, transformative. Now over 50, Marshall is on the other side of the equation these days.

In a string of widely publicized legal cases, he has acted for women escaping polygamous marriages, a bereaved father taking on his own former religious sect, hepatitis C patients and natives abused at residential schools.

Last week, he celebrated a significant milestone in the fight to see former residential school students receive financial compensation.

An agreement unveiled by Ottawa on Wednesday, worth more than $2 billion, includes payments to the claimants and funding for healing programs. The deal still has to be approved by the courts, and could be affected by a change in Parliament, but there is widespread optimism that a long battle is coming to an end.

Marshall and partner in the action, Rhonda Ruston, spent the past eight years working for 625 claimants in the action, most from the Blood and Piikani reserves in southern Alberta.

His involvement started on a Saturday morning in 1997 at the Lethbridge Ruston Marshall office.

"This small group, all Bloods, came in to see us," Marshall remembers.

"They told us their stories, what had happened to them in the residential schools -- the abuse they had suffered," he says intently, peering over spectacles worn low on his nose.

"They ended up staying the whole day, and we made the commitment that day. We would see this through."

Phil Lane Jr. led the group of men who met Marshall that day.

"It became really clear to me, through the energy both Vaughn and Rhonda put into it that this was not something they were doing just because of money," said Lane from Seattle, where he now lives.

"This has taken a long time, and they have never given up. From what I can tell, Vaughn always stands by his clients."

Those clients have included Jane Blackmore, who divorced her polygamous husband Winston Blackmore in the breakaway Mormon community of Bountiful near Creston B.C., and Lawrence Hughes, whose daughter Bethany died after refusing blood transfusions because of the family's Jehovah's Witness faith.

While not all of his cases are religious in nature -- he spent many years specializing in matters related to international banking, and current cases with his firm of Marshall Attorneys include a class-action over the drug Vioxx -- they are of particular interest.

"Anything that deals with institutional coersion, particularly within religious institutions," Marshall says.

He's not anti-religion, he adds.

"A lot of people think I am, because of the nature of the cases I've done, but I'm not," Marshall said.

"For aboriginal peoples, it wasn't just a case of potential wasted," Marshall said. "It was potential destroyed."

He didn't know it, but the native students at his Jasper Place High School in Edmonton all came out of residential schools -- including his "blood brother," Robert Alook, a Northern Cree.

"I was a kid -- I didn't know anything about residential schools."

All he knew was that Robert was boarded with an elderly woman who lived near the school. Marshall asked his parents if Robert could live with them, instead.

"Seven kids in the house, and my parents said yes," he said. "Robert became my brother, but I never asked him what his experience had been."

They would lose touch in later years.

"That'll always be the question for me -- what happened to Robert?" said Marshall. "I wish I could find him now, and tell him how much (standing up to the bully) meant, and where it led me."

ldohy@theherald.canwest.com

 The Calgary Herald 2005