Wednesday, May 21, 1997

Coroner report needs to be released

So, deputy justice minister Don Cooper wants to play the "classified" information game with a report on the NWT chief coroner's office that isn't even complete yet.

The report, being prepared by B.C.'s chief coroner, Larry Campbell, is no doubt being written at some expense to the public and its contents will certainly shed some light on an entire government department that has just recently lost its chief coroner for reasons that are anything but apparent.

Why Jo MacQuarrie left her post is still a mystery, just as it was over a year ago when she was dumped from her post and then rehired, with little explanation from the government or from MacQuarrie.

Is our coroner's office in bad shape? Has it been investigating Northern deaths incorrectly? Has the chief coroner done something wrong? Has the government been mistreating the chief coroner or has it been creating an oppressive environment in which the coroner must work?

Information -- especially a commissioned review -- about a public government's department should certainly be subject to public scrutiny.

Cooper would have the public believe that "personnel matters" should be left up to the individual and the government to discuss, out of the public's eye.

Well, the public has a right to know what's going on with the coroner's department, whether or not there are major problems with how it has been operating, and what the government is prepared to do to fix it.

Scrutiny may shed uncomfortable light on government bureaucrats and politicians at times, but being honest and forthright is still important in our democratic society and may save bureaucrats and politicians even more discomfort when the next territorial election rolls around in 1999.

When complete, as much as possible of the report should be released, without delay.

Autograph watch

Canada's Election Act makes it a crime for federal candidates to sign someone else's legislative wish list during a campaign, as someone in Liberal Ethel Blondin-Andrew's team knew last week at an all-candidates debate.

The law is there for good reason. MPs must be free to vote according to exercise their best judgment for the circumstance of the day. That's why they're elected. Pledging in writing to follow the dictates of one interest group, no matter how laudable the demands, would interfere with that duty.

It was a mistake for Wally Firth, Mary Beth Levan and Mike Watt to sign Bill Erasmus's agenda. Let's hope no one else asks them to do it again.

Community action

The residents of Rae and Lutselk'e demonstrated the real meaning of community when they organized search parties to look for clues to the disappearance of Charlene Catholique.

Catholique has been missing for nearly seven years and, understandably, the community has felt frustrated by the apparent lack of action on the part of the police.

A pair of jeans were found in an area that had not been searched by police. Whether or not the jeans provide a clue to the mystery, the actions of the citizens speak volumes about the power of a community. The people of Rae and Lutselk'e should be proud of that.