N.W.T. 911 lawsuit against Bell Mobility may grow

A class-action lawsuit that accuses Bell Mobility of charging users for non-existent 911 service in the Northwest Territories could also include customers in Nunavut and Yukon.

A class-action lawsuit that accuses Bell Mobility of charging users for non-existent 911 service in the Northwest Territories could expand to include customers in Nunavut and Yukon.

The lawsuit by James Anderson claims that Bell Mobility should not have charged him and other N.W.T. customers a 911 fee for a service that does not exist in the territory. (CBC)

Lawyers behind James and Samuel Anderson's lawsuit asked the N.W.T. Supreme Court on Tuesday to expand the suit to include approximately 4,000 Bell Mobility customers in Nunavut and 1,500 customers in rural Yukon communities.

Bell Mobility is the largest cellular carrier in the Northwest Territories, with about 20,000 customers.

However, there is no 911 emergency operator service in the N.W.T. Residents must instead dial a seven-digit local phone number for immediate fire, medical or RCMP assistance in their communities.

James Anderson, a Yellowknife resident, and his son Samuel want Bell Mobility to pay back the 75-cent monthly fee it has charged to them and other customers for 911 service that is not available in their areas.

James Anderson filed the lawsuit in 2007. It was certified as a class action last year.

Only Whitehorse has 911 service

In Canada's northern territories, only the Yukon capital city of Whitehorse has 911 service. It does not exist in Yukon communities outside the city, nor does it exist anywhere in Nunavut.

Bell Mobility has argued that it never agreed to provide 911 service. The company has said there was no mention of providing the emergency service in its contract with cellphone customers.

The carrier is also opposing the Andersons' motion to expand the lawsuit to include Yukon and Nunavut customers, arguing that the class action should be restricted to customers in the Northwest Territories only.

But Keith Landy and Sam Marr, two Toronto-based lawyers who are representing the Andersons, told the court by video conference that the dollar amounts involved are so small — about $9 per year for each customer — that the only way Nunavut and rural Yukon customers could sue Bell Mobility would be by joining the N.W.T. lawsuit.

During Tuesday's court hearing, the Andersons' lawyers and Bell Mobility argued about how customers should be notified about the lawsuit, and which side should pay the costs associated with that notification process.

Among other things, both sides also disagreed on whether the trial should be held before a judge and jury, which the Andersons' lawyers want, or before a judge alone, which Bell Mobility wants.

The judge hearing the case said he will issue a written ruling as soon as he can on all the issues brought up at Tuesday's hearing.