A lawsuit against Bell Mobility by two Yellowknife men, who say the mobile carrier charges for locally non-existent 911 service, has been certified as a class-action lawsuit within the Northwest Territories.
James Anderson and his son Samuel are suing the national cellular carrier for charging 75 cents a month in 911 emergency access fees, even though 911 service is not available in the Northwest Territories.
In April, the Andersons' lawyer argued in the N.W.T. Supreme Court that the lawsuit should be certified as a class action so that other Bell Mobility customers across Canada could have the opportunity to benefit from it.
Those customers would include those who live in rural areas or in other jurisdictions — such as Nunavut and most of Yukon — where 911 service is not offered.
Main cellular carrier
But in a written decision, dated July 30 and released this week, Justice Ronald Veale certified the lawsuit as a class action only for people in the N.W.T.
Still, the certification of the lawsuit as a class action delighted James Anderson, a retired school administrator.
"I think it's a win for all northerners who have been paying for a service that they haven't been receiving," he told CBC News on Monday.
There are roughly 20,000 Bell Mobility customers in the territory, where Bell is the main cellular phone carrier.
A cellphone user who dials 911 in Yellowknife would get an automated message stating, "There are no 911 services in this area. Please hang up and dial the emergency number for your area, or hang up and dial 0 to reach an operator."
Must be Bell customer as of April
According to Veale's decision, those who can take part in the class-action lawsuit must be, as of April 13, an N.W.T. resident in an agreement with Bell Mobility for cellphone services.
They must also have been charged for 911 access fees but have no 911 live operator where they live, or in the area associated with their phone number's area code.
Veale stated that the Andersons must produce more evidence to show how many Bell Mobility customers outside the N.W.T. should be included in the lawsuit, and what those customers' service agreements state.
Anderson said his lawyers are working on providing that additional information. Ultimately, he said he hopes Bell Mobility will try to resolve the case out of court.
"I would hope that they would negotiate a settlement. I don't know what form that that would take — obviously that's something for negotiations," he said. "But I would hope after 2½ years we could bring some closure to this. It'd be the right thing for them to do."
Calls to Bell Mobility were not returned on Monday.
Lawyers from both sides are expected to meet outside court and discuss how Bell Mobility customers in the N.W.T. will be notified of their right to join the lawsuit.