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Former leader warns of court challenge

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Oct 12/01) - The legislative assembly made a risky move by letting MLAs assess a bias complaint against their conflict commissioner, says a former government leader.

NNSL Photo
Richard Nerysoo

Richard Nerysoo told Yellowknifer this week that the way the complaint has unfolded could breach the traditional division between legislators and judges.

"It's very unusual for the assembly to become part of a quasi-judicial body," said Nerysoo, also a former Gwich'in Tribal Council president. "If either party feels they didn't get justice, they can go to the courts."

Nerysoo said legislators typically leave it to independent officials to deal with politically-charged issues. The creation of the office of the conflict-of-interest commissioner is an example of that arm's-length relationship.

The special committee on conflict of interest was a re-incarnation of the assembly's board of management, which became involved when Groenewegen levelled an allegation of bias against the commissioner.

When the commissioner challenged the legislative authority of the committee to hear the complaint, the assembly appointed the special committee, which has the same members as the board.

"Everything is challengeable in this day and age," said assembly clerk David Hamilton.

But Hamilton said the first decision the courts would have to make is whether they have the jurisdiction to question a decision of the assembly.

He noted there is plenty of case law that suggests the court does not have that authority.

There has been only one suggestion of a court challenge.

CBC said it would challenge a summons the committee issued to compel reporter Lee Selleck, whose talk with Roberts is the basis of Groenewegen's bias complaint, to testify. Selleck refused to do so.

The broadcaster later decided to await the assembly's decision before proceeding.