Thursday, August 25, 2011

Vancouver Sun: Ombudsman to review complaint by mothers of Bathurst van crash victims

Click here to read original article in the Vancouver Sun

FREDERICTON — 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 young men — basketball players from Bathurst High School.

Acting ombudsman Francois Levert met on Tuesday with Isabelle Hains and Ana Acevedo whose sons were among those killed in crash.

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

"I told them that we will first listen to the complaint and that we will then proceed to a thorough analysis," Levert said.

If they determine they have jurisdiction, they will "make the necessary inquiries and look into things further," he said.

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

"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," she said.

The provincial government has provided a $250,000 tax credit for the project. New Brunswick Education Minister Jody Carr is also named in the complaint.

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

"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 Education Department to reverse a decision by the school district to allow Dream Street Pictures to film at the local school.

Last month, the Fredericton-based production company announced that 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 is slated to be shot in Bathurst and in Fredericton, with filming scheduled to be completed by November.

The movie will recount the school's inspirational basketball victory a year after a 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.

Rick LeGuerrier, co-producer of the film, previously has aid 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 also will file a complaint with the auditor general.

The mothers said that while recommendations by the ombudsman are non-binding, they hope the office will highlight their concerns and take them to the 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."
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