A request to government from the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Muskrat Falls Project has prompted a change to the province’s Court Security Act.
Amendments to the Act went through committee debate in the House of Assembly this week. The proposed changes include expanding the definition of “court area” to include an area used by an inquiry, as established under the Public Inquiries Act.
Practically speaking, the changes allow sheriff’s officers to be used in providing security at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry hearings, and at future public inquiries where they are requested.
Justice Minister Andrew Parsons told The Telegram that Commissioner Richard LeBlanc requested sheriff’s officers for the proceedings on Muskrat Falls, leading to the updates to the Act.
Sheriff’s officers have been at public inquiries in Newfoundland and Labrador in the past, but not since the Court Security Act governing the security powers of sheriff’s officers was introduced in 2010.
Inquiries since 2010, the minister said, opted not to use sheriff’s officers for security.
The Court Security Act permits sheriff’s officers to carry weapons, exclude outside weapons from a court area, screen people entering, conduct frisk searches as needed, and use “reasonable force” to restrict a person’s access to the area.
Security for a public inquiry is established by staff, at the discretion of the commissioner.
Money for security at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry specifically was already included in the budget.
Parsons said the High Sheriff’s Office was consulted on the request for sheriff’s officers and determined staffing the inquiry would not be an issue in terms of officer numbers.
Regular public hearings for the Muskrat Falls Inquiry are set to begin in mid-September, in the hearing room in the Beothuck Building in St. John’s.