Bet­ter safe than sorry

Advertiser (Grand Falls) - - Editorial -

As “house­keep­ing” changes go in leg­is­la­tion at the House of As­sem­bly, this one looks like the house­keep­ing-est. Bill 16, which is meant to amend the Court Se­cu­rity Act, ac­tu­ally changes only a hand­ful of words, adding “or in­quiry” to the def­i­ni­tion of court ar­eas that can use sher­iff’s of­fi­cers for se­cu­rity, and then adding a def­i­ni­tion that an in­quiry is an in­quiry un­der part one or part two of the Pub­lic In­quiries Act.

It will go through all the nec­es­sary process of the House of As­sem­bly, in all like­li­hood have very lit­tle de­bate, then get royal as­sent and be pro­claimed as law.

But what’s per­haps most in­ter­est­ing about Bill 16 and the change in law is the ge­n­e­sis of the change.

The prov­ince’s jus­tice min­is­ter, An­drew Par­sons, says the Com­mis­sioner of the Muskrat Falls In­quiry, Richard LeBlanc, re­quested that sher­iff ’s of­fi­cers pro­vide se­cu­rity for the in­quiry.

It’s a first since the Court Se­cu­rity Act was brought in back in 2010.

What’s in­ter­est­ing about that is sher­iff’s of­fi­cers have a pretty broad range of pow­ers un­der the act: as peace of­fi­cers, they’re al­lowed to search at­ten­dees, and are even al­lowed to use “rea­son­able force” to evict peo­ple from the area the in­quiry is us­ing.

It might be that sher­iff ’s of­fi­cers are a fa­mil­iar level of se­cu­rity for Jus­tice LeBlanc, who has held po­si­tions on the pro­vin­cial and Supreme Court benches. It may be that us­ing the of­fi­cers is the sim­plest and most straight­for­ward way to pro­vide se­cu­rity. But it may also be a lit­tle bit of ju­di­cial fore­thought.

Of­ten, pub­lic in­quiries, such as the re­cent in­quiry into the death of Don­ald Dun­phy, deal with is­sues that have al­ready moved into a more re­flec­tive stage; the events that are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated have al­ready oc­curred, and the fo­cus is on look­ing back at the process. For its en­tire run, the Dun­phy In­quiry spent just $2,744 of its $2.9 mil­lion bud­get on se­cu­rity.

But in some ways, the Muskrat Falls in­quiry will be look­ing into a live is­sue: the project isn’t com­plete, there are still ac­tive con­cerns about the project’s po­ten­tial to create flood­ing or land­slides and create health is­sues like methylmer­cury con­tam­i­na­tion, and there are still le­git­i­mate protests oc­cur­ring as far afield as at Par­lia­ment in Ot­tawa. The govern­ment, for ex­am­ple, has still not ex­plained what level of ad­di­tional soil and veg­e­ta­tion clear­ing will be done in the reser­voir.

The Muskrat Falls In­quiry is ex­pected to be long, not start­ing its hear­ings un­til this fall and not pro­duc­ing a fi­nal re­port un­til late 2019, with hear­ings be­ing held spread out over roughly seven months of that time.

It’s not un­rea­son­able to be­lieve that it might also be a pub­lic and ac­ces­si­ble fo­cal point for peo­ple who are frus­trated with their in­abil­ity to be heard and with the fi­nan­cial bur­den the project will bring to bear.

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