The city filed a statement of claim this summer against three houseboaters on Yellowknife Bay, asking for the right to tax and impose its bylaws on the boaters.
Councillors have said the purpose of the suit is to settle the question of who has jurisdiction over the bay, and that they are hoping to resolve the matter with as little expense and aggravation to the houseboaters.
But a fax sent last week to senior administrator Doug Lagore suggests there was no need to take the boaters to court in the first place.
The message came from Yellowknife North MLA Roy Erasmus.
"There is a way that you can do this without involving the innocent citizen," wrote Erasmus. "That is, you can simply ask the Supreme Court of the NWT to rule on who has jurisdiction; this is called putting a question to the court."
Erasmus included a copy of the Legal Questions Act, which provides for this solution. He also informs Lagore that part of the procedure is asking justice minister Kelvin Ng to put the question to the court.
"He has already agreed to do so if he is asked. Doing it this way would save the houseboaters a lot of money, time and agony," suggested Erasmus.
Asked what process led to the decision to file a statement of claim against the three houseboaters, Lagore said, "It was discussed with the mayor and the mayor made a decision."
Lagore said the city knew about the route Erasmus suggested, but he would not discuss why it was dismissed.
"That's privileged information, between the city and its lawyers," said Lagore.
Mayor Dave Lovell said he was advised of the option, but only after the action had begun, and that lawyers had suggested case management, the route currently being followed.
The city's kinder, gentler posturing toward the houseboaters has been called into question by two other occurrences.
The first court appearance ended abruptly when Scott Duke, lawyer for one of the houseboaters, informed the court he had been a member of a firm that had supplied the city with two legal opinions on its jurisdiction over the bay.
Lovell was not aware of the opinions, and said it had not been part of discussions leading to the decision to take the houseboaters to court again.
And in spite of saying it wanted to save houseboaters as much money and stress as possible in settling the issue, the city's original statement of claim asked the court to have the houseboaters pay costs for the action.
That part of the claim was dropped after one of the three boaters named, Matthew Grogono, protested to council.
Next appearances in the case are expected to come later this month, though a date has yet to be set.