Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Daily Gleaner: Victims' mothers take complaint to ombudsman

Published Wednesday August 24th, 2011

A3 By ADAM HURAS The Daily Gleaner

Click here to read original article in the Daily Gleaner

The province's acting ombudsman says he will review the concerns of two Bathurst mothers who want to prevent the filming of a television movie related to the 2008 van crash that killed seven basketball players from Bathurst High School and the coach's wife.

Acting ombudsman Fran├žois Levert met Tuesday with Isabelle Hains and Ana Acevedo, whose sons were among those killed in the crash.

The mothers say the Bathurst-area school district superintendent was in a conflict of interest when he OK'd the filming of parts of the television movie at Bathurst High School.

"We believe that the superintendent and the Department of Education decided long in advance that the protests of parents were irrelevant and that the film was going to go forward no matter what the public outcry," Hains said.

"The proof is that the feelings of the victims' parents and families were not considered whatsoever in the negotiations leading up to the film's announcement.

"It is a movie being made because our children were killed and if they weren't killed, they wouldn't be making this movie."

Education Minister Jody Carr is also named in the complaint.

The provincial government has provided a $250,000 tax credit for the project.

Levert said the review could take two to three months if his office determines that it's within its jurisdiction to put forward recommendations.

"I told them that we will first listen to the complaint and that we will then proceed to a thorough analysis if we determine we have jurisdiction we do make the necessary enquiries and look into things further," Levert said.

"We could also determine that we do not have jurisdiction, for example, if it involves a private company or the federal government."

The two mothers have also started a letter-writing campaign to force the Department of Education to reverse a decision by the school district to allow Dream Street Pictures to film at the school.

Last month, Fredericton-based production company Dream Street Pictures announced a television movie, produced in conjunction with CBC, would begin filming in the fall.

Tentatively titled The Phantoms, after the team's name, the movie will be shot in Bathurst and Fredericton, with filming scheduled to be completed by November.

The movie will recount the school's inspirational basketball victory a year after the tragic accident on a northern New Brunswick snowy highway claimed the lives of seven players from the school and the coach's wife.

Dream Street Pictures declined to comment Tuesday.

Rick LeGuerrier, the film's co-producer, has previously said it would have been possible to film the project elsewhere, but he believes shooting the movie in Bathurst is the right thing to do.

"We're certainly grateful for the trust that the school district, and by extension the Bathurst community, is demonstrating by allowing us to shoot the movie in Bathurst and use the school facilities," he said.

Hains and Acevedo said they will also file a complaint with the auditor general.

The mothers said that while recommendations by the ombudsman are nonbinding, they hope the office will highlight their concerns and take them to government.

"We wish we didn't have to make this complaint to the ombudsman, but when you are faced with a complete lack of respect and consideration for your feelings as a parent who has lost a child in the most horrible way, you have to do something to make these people do the right thing," Hains said.

"Now it is in the ombudsman's hands and they are going to do their part."