The Toronto Star
September 13, 2000
The judge looking into the contamination of this town’s water supply made it clear in a ruling yesterday he wants to be sure the people most affected are heard.
“Given the tragedy the residents have suffered, their interests must be represented,” Mr. Justice Dennis O’Connor wrote in granting legal status to three disparate residents’ groups.
“Their voices must be heard, even if those voices deliver somewhat different messages.”
The three local groups – Concerned Walkerton Citizens, the Walkerton Community Foundation and the “injured victims” (mostly the proposed class-action plaintiffs) – were all formed in response to last May’s E. coli outbreak that caused six deaths and made 2,000 people ill.
They will put forward the perspective of those who have suffered, O’Connor said.
By contrast, five individuals – including an inmate at Millbrook Detention Centre – who claimed standing on the basis of personal suffering were turned down.
Those granted individual standing were people with key roles in events leading to the tragedy – “in the eye of the storm,” as O’Connor put it.
Chief among them are Public Utilities Commission manager Stan Koebel and Dr. Murray McQuigge, the medical officer of health who on a hunch imposed a boil-water advisory, then went public with his view that officials had covered up the E. coli contamination.
O’Connor refused an application filed by the Ontario New Democratic Party, which claimed involvement because of allegations by Premier Mike Harris that their policies were implicated in the tainted water.
“It is, in my view, generally undesirable to use public inquiries to have political parties advance their positions,” O’Connor wrote.
In a telephone interview, NDP leader Howard Hampton said he thought the party could have contributed useful information. However, he welcomed O’Connor’s statement that the party had no allegations of wrongdoing to answer.
Among others refused status were the town’s chief administrative officer, Richard Radford, six utility employees, two health unit employees, and a dozen present and past members of Brockton council. Six parties got full standing on all issues. Standing limited to issues affecting them was granted to 14 groups and individuals in Part 1 of the inquiry, which will consist of formal hearings in Walkerton set to start Oct. 16.
Full standing at Part 1 involves advance notice of documents and anticipated evidence, a seat at the lawyers’ table, and the opportunity to suggest and cross-examine witnesses and make closing submissions.
O’Connor had various recommendations on funding issues, which must be approved by the Attorney General’s ministry.
O’Connor refused to grant separate standing in Part 1 to several organizations. Instead, he ordered ad hoc coalitions – one made up of three unions, one involving two health agencies, and another composed of three environmental groupings, which in turn represent many more groups.
Thirty parties have been granted limited standing in Part 2, in which an expert panel will commission study papers on policy issues, which will then be the subject of public submissions and meetings. Those granted standing at Part 2 may make submissions, including responses to the commissioned papers, and participate in the public meetings.
Participants in the Walkerton inquiry
|Full standing, Parts 1 and 2
Full standing, Part 1
Limited standing, Part 1
|Limited standing, Part 2