Shock and disappointment for Pinehouse FOI group

D’Arcy Hande (left) and Fred Pederson (right) are two members of a Freedom of Information Citizens group looking for more transparency in the Northern Village of Pinehouse. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

A citizens Freedom of Information group says they’re concerned about what’s next for the Northern Village of Pinehouse following the appointment of provincial inspector Neil Robertson to the Court of Queen’s Bench.

The federal government made the appointment on May 21. It was a significant blow for current and former residents of the community, who see it as another obstacle in their quest for greater transparency.

“It was a shock,” said D’Arcy Hande, a freelance researcher who has made more than half-a-dozen freedom of information requests to the village since 2012. “Several of us in our group, and others, had met with Neil Robertson. We weren’t happy with how long the process was taking, but I think we all had confidence in his abilities and his sincerity.”

“I’m a disappointed man because of this,” added elder Fred Pederson, a longtime resident who just recently moved away from the village after living there for more than 40 years. “I am not pushing this hard for myself. I’m pushing for the people of a community that I love that welcomed me with open arms back in ’74.”

The provincial government tapped Robertson for the inspector’s role in December 2018. In April, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix obtained a leaked copy of Robertson’s first report where he recommended that the village’s mayor and one of its councillors be removed from office.

Both Hande and Pederson said that first report gave them confidence that Robertson was the right man for the job. Now they’re not so sure.

“He had a lot of credibility,” Hande explained. “We’re kind of questioning how easy it’s going to be to replace him and how quickly they can do that turnaround.”

“We don’t want to wait six months (or) nine months for (a replacement),” Pederson added. “We’d like to see something put back in place at least in the next couple of weeks. Get it back on track.”

Both say they have confidence in Hasan Akhtar, the public servant and northern municipal matters expert who was appointed to provide guidance to the local council. However, they also say Akhtar isn’t a formal investigator, and shouldn’t have to monitor the village by himself.

As for the future, Hande and Pederson have two different ideas about where they want to go. Hande still has some confidence in the provincial government. He plans to write a letter to the Minister of Government Relations. Pederson, meanwhile, wants to see the RCMP step in and conduct a forensic audit.

“I’ve seen stuff like this in the past in other places,” Pederson said. “I have seen how some places had a hard time solving (the problem). You know who solved it for the community a lot of times, especially in the Northwest Territories? The RCMP stepping in.”

It appears that there is no timeline for appointing Robertson’s replacement. When contacted by MBC radio following the announcement, Government Relations Minster Warren Kaeding said they were “determining options to ensure the inquiry is continued and completed with minimal delay.” However, he did not say when that decision would come.