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Judge allows 9-1-1 expert to testify
Judge hears from Yellowknife plaintiffs in $6-million class action lawsuit

Katherine Hudson
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Bell Mobility was dealt a blow yesterday after a judge allowed a plaintiff's expert witness to testify in the Yellowknife family's lawsuit against the cellphone service provider, which charged Northern customers for a non-existent 9-1-1 emergency phone service.

The trial portion of the $6-million class action lawsuit began Monday with plaintiffs James Anderson and his son Samuel Anderson from Yellowknife taking the stand.

Yesterday Justice R.S. Veale of the NWT Supreme Court allowed the men's third and final witness to testify. Iain Grant was introduced as a telecommunications analyst and expert at The SeaBoard Group - a consulting company with a focus on technology and communications industries.

"The expert opinion of Iain Grant is submissible," ruled the judge, adding that Grant was suitably qualified in the field to provide testimony.

"I accept Mr. Grant's expertise as a telecommunications industry researcher and analyst," he said.

Grant testified that nowhere else outside of the North do cellphone service providers charge for 9-1-1 when it is not available.

"Bell Canada's practice in the North is an anomaly," said Grant.

The Andersons launched the case against Bell in 2007, alleging the company charged for but did not provide a live 9-1-1 operator for its cellphone customers. Bell Mobility disputes the allegation, arguing while it provides the call-routing services, it's the responsibility of local governments to establish, manage and fund emergency dispatch.

This is a liability trial, while a damages trial could follow.

Bell Mobility customers pay a 9-1-1 service fee of 75 cents a month. The service is unavailable anywhere in the NWT, Nunavut and Yukon - save Whitehorse, which does have 9-1-1 service.

"Is Bell breaching contracts with clients?" asked the Andersons' lawyer Keith Landy on Monday, who said Bell Mobility was enriching itself from the 9-1-1 fee even though Northern customers couldn't use it.

Bell Mobility lawyer Rob Deane argued the Andersons knew and agreed to the contract, understanding that a 9-1-1 service was not available in Yellowknife.

He also said the Andersons have travelled or resided outside of the NWT - Samuel lived in B.C. for six months while getting his primary paramedic training - and had access to whatever 9-1-1 dispatch services were available there.

In Yellowknife, when a Bell Mobility customer calls 9-1-1, there is an automated message that states, "There are no 9-1-1 services in this area. Please hang up and dial the emergency number for your area or hang up and dial zero to reach an operator."

When zero is dialed, there is another recording that asks the caller to dial 9-1-1 for emergency services.

In August 2007, Samuel Anderson, who was 18 at the time, signed up for a cellphone. Now 24, he works for the city fire department and explained Monday that when someone dials the fire department in Yellowknife - a local prefix followed by -2222 - it goes to a dispatcher at Pumphouse No. 1 on Yellowknife Bay.

James Anderson, 60, was the first witness called on Monday. He said he had signed a contract with Bell Mobility after moving to Yellowknife from Inuvik in August 2005. When he signed up at Roy's Audiotronic, he asked why he had to pay the 9-1-1 charge when the service was not available and was told everyone has to pay it.

James said "something should happen" when a person in the NWT calls 9-1-1.

"With the current recording, nothing happens. There should be a live person," he said.

The trial, which is taking place in a conference room at the Yellowknife Inn, is expected to last until next Friday.

- with files from Danielle Sachs

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