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Plaintiff wants 9-1-1 provided
'I'm ashamed that our government has not stepped in' - James Anderson

Miranda Scotland
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fresh from his David-versus-Goliath victory in court over fees charged for non-existent 9-1-1 phone service, Yellowknife's James Anderson wants government bodies in the NWT to provide residents with an easy number to call when lives depend on it.

"Valuable time is lost," said Anderson. "I'm ashamed that our government has not stepped in to provide this very real service for people."

Currently, if a resident calls 9-1-1 they get a recorded message telling them that there are no 9-1-1 services in their area and they should call the emergency service number for their area or dial 0.

If the person dials 0 they reach another recorded message that suggests they call (star) 9-1-1, which takes them to the first recorded message. The emergency number in Yellowknife is a prefix number such as 873- or 669- followed by -1111 for police or -2222 for an ambulance or the fire department.

Anderson and his son Samuel Anderson filed a $6-million class action lawsuit against cellphone service provider Bell Mobility six years ago over the 75 cent monthly fee it was charging for non-existent 9-1-1 service.

On Friday, a written decision from NWT Supreme Court Justice R.S. Veale was released ordering Bell to repay the fee charged to thousands of Northern customers.

"The Andersons have established that Bell Mobility was enriched by charging a fee for no service and a corresponding deprivation of the class members who paid the 75 cents monthly fee," Veale wrote.

Residents of the NWT, Nunavut and the Yukon - except Whitehorse - are involved in the case if they entered a cellphone agreement with Bell Mobility before April 13, 2010 and were charged emergency access fees despite there being no 9-1-1 live operator in the area. Customers could opt out of the case if they wanted to.

Veale also decided Bell Mobility was not required to provide the 9-1-1 service itself and denied the request from the Andersons' lawyers for Bell to pay for wrongful conduct and punitive or exemplary damages.

Company spokesperson Albert Lee said they are pleased the judge ruled that Bell Mobility isn't required to provide live 9-1-1 operators.

However, there are plans to fight the court's finding that Bell breached the service agreements and had been unjustly enriched as a result.

James Anderson said he isn't surprised by Bell's plans.

"The past practice of Bell has been to consistently appeal every decision that's been made," Anderson said.

During the March trial, Bell lawyers argued the Andersons knew before signing the contract with Bell that 9-1-1 service was not available in the Yellowknife and agreed to it anyway. They also noted that Samuel lived in B.C. for six months while getting his primary paramedic training and could access the emergency service available there.

Meanwhile, James testified he signed up for cellphone service with Bell after moving to Yellowknife from Inuvik in August 2005. While signing the contract at Roy's Audiotronic, he asked why he had to pay for a service not available to him and was told it wasn't optional.

He eventually agreed to the contract because at the time Bell was the only cellphone company in town.

The next step for the two parties will be to participate in a damages hearing, but no date has been set. If Bell is granted an appeal, the hearing will be put on hold until a decision is made.

"I knew it was going to be a long haul," said James, adding that despite Bell's action he is pleased with Veale's decision.

"I think it's a victory for all Northern residents in the three territories outside of Whitehorse in the Yukon because Whitehorse does have 9-1-1 service."

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