Families reach $5.5-million deal over "criminal" behavior of Quebec long-term care company

Long-term care company Katasa, whose president has a criminal past and suspected mafia connections, makes $5.5 million deal with families to avert lawsuit over COVID-19 deaths of 47 of 134 residents.

The Canadian Press with CNC files

MONTREAL — Lawyers representing families of a Montreal-area long-term care home devastated during the pandemic's first wave say they've reached a $5.5-million settlement with the facility's owners.

A judge will need to authorize the agreement, with a court date scheduled for April 30.

Lawyer Arthur Wechsler says six months after a judge's approval a claims process will take place, with a goal of wrapping up payments to class action members by the end of 2021.

Wechsler says there were about 134 residents at the facility, owned by Katasa Group, in April 2020 when the class action was filed.

The settlement would be distributed to any surviving spouses or children of the residents who died and to any residents who didn't pass away.

Herron was particularly hard hit during the first wave of COVID-19, with 47 deaths at the Dorval, Que., facility. The Crown is weighing whether to lay criminal charges, which would not be the first time the company has come under police scrutiny.

The president of Katasa group is Samir Chowieri, who was convicted in the 1980s of conspiracy for drug trafficking and conspiracy for fraud. In 2020, Quebec Premier François Legault called it "unacceptable" that a person convicted of serious crimes ended up running a string of long-term care establishments in the province, but made no effort to remove Chowieri or Katasa from the long-term care industry.

After release from prison, Chowieri also attracted RCMP attention, A 1990s search-warrant affidavit stated police suspected he continued to be involved in drug trafficking and money laundering, laundering money for the mafia through his companies. 

"Chowieri is a smart and careful drug trafficker and money launderer," said an RCMP informant quoted in the affidavit.

Last year, Katasa Group announced they were closing the facility. A public relations firm that has been representing the owners said they did not have any immediate comment on the settlement.

Wechsler said there were about 134 residents at the facility in April 2020 when the class action was filed. The class includes those at the residence between March 13, 2020 and May 31, 2020, when the province took over management.

Patrizia Di Biase-Leone, whose 98-year-old mother was a resident at the Katasa Group residence and is now living in a care home in east-end Montreal, said the money is not enough for her.

"Yeah, it’s $5.5 million, but our parents, whether they are still here or not are worth a heck of a lot more than that,” she said. “We can’t put a dollar on our parents, on our loved ones, but what can we do?... It has to go further than a settlement. They are criminals, they are criminals. In the end, to me, they are criminals.”

Di Biase-Leone said she thinks the building should never house seniors again.

"I would almost tear it down because there are a lot of people who drive by there, who have memories of it, of what happened, of us standing outside waving at our loved ones when we could,” she said.

She said her family and others will always remember what transpired.

"We still have those memories. For us, it’s those times that we knew we couldn’t go in. There was police in front of it all. It was just so traumatizing to see what was going on… are we going to see another person being wheeled out?”

A judge will need to authorize the agreement, with a date before Quebec Superior Court scheduled for April 30. The claims process should begin about six months after approval, with eligible members expected to receive payment by the end of 2021.

Wechsler said the pandemic amplified an already existing condition that was the subject of the lawsuit, which alleged the long-term care home acted recklessly and showed a disregard for its residents and their safety.

"COVID-19 brought to light what we alleged in the settlement was the mistreatment to the various residents of the Herron long-term health care facility -- what the most fragile, vulnerable people were undergoing," Wechsler said in an interview.

"Because of the COVID pandemic, it brought that to the surface. We weren't alleging that COVID caused this. We were alleging a treatment or mistreatment which was already existing."

The settlement would be distributed among surviving spouses or children of the residents who died and residents who are still living.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Barbara Schneider, the daughter of Mary Schneider, 93, who died at the Residence Herron on April 10. There were 47 deaths at the Dorval, Que., facility, which will be the focus of a coroner's inquest this fall.

Those hearings were delayed last month until September at the request of the Herron owners, who are waiting to see if they will face criminal charges.



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