16 February 2010

Elizabeth Towers Fire Inquiry – Intro/Commission

First Report
Public Enquiry into Release and Publication
Police Reports into Fire at Elizabeth Towers,
St. John’s
Submitted to His Honour the Lieutenant Governor
August 16th, 1979
His Honour Judge P. Lloyd Soper, D.C.J.


This Enquiry was constituted under The Public Enquiry Act by the following Commission of appointment.
ELIZABETH THE SECOND, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her Other Realms and Territories, QUEEN, Head of the Commonwealth,  Defender of the Faith.

Gordon A. Winter, Lieutenant-Governor
T. Alexander Hickman, Minister of Justice


Judge of the District Court of Humber-St. George's Corner Brook, Newfoundland


WHEREAS it appears desirable and expedient in the public interest that an enquiry be held relating to certain matters respecting the release and publication of police reports concerning an investigation into a fire at Elizabeth Towers, St. John's, and for other matters pertaining thereto;

NOW KNOW YE that under and by virtue of The Public Enquiries Act, Chapter 314 of the Revised Statutes of Newfoundland, 1970, We, by and with the advice of Our Executive Council of Our Province of Newfoundland, reposing great trust and confidence in your knowledge, integrity and ability, have constituted and appointed and do by these Presents constitute and appoint you the said


to be a Commissioner to conduct an investigation into the matters following and to make such recommendations with regard to any and all of those matters and other matters connected therewith as you may think fit, that is to say

(1)    to enquire into and report upon all facts and circumstances relating to or having a bearing upon the publication of the contents of two confidential police reports dated June 7, 1978, and July 12, 1978, respectively, addressed to the Deputy Minister of Justice for the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions relating to the investigation by the Department of Justice into the cause and origin of and possible responsibility for a fire at Elizabeth Towers Apartments, St. John's, on April 26, 1978, including but without prejudice to the foregoing generality

(a)  to determine and report upon all persons involved in or connected with the release, transmission, duplication, delivery and publication of the contents of the said reports;

(b)  to consider and report upon the justification, if any, for such release, transmission, duplication, delivery and publication by any of the persons referred to in paragraph (a) in the public good, in the interest of the administration of justice or otherwise as you deem fit; and

(c)    to enquire into and report upon what, in your opinion, any person referred to in paragraph (a) who came into possession of the said documents ought to have done with them either in the public interest, in the interest of the administration of justice or otherwise as you deem fit and what action, if any, should be taken against such person or persons.

(2)    to report as to whether, in your opinion, legislation, either by statute or by regulation, should prescribe for penalties for failure to maintain confidentiality of police reports in particular, and generally documents which are classified by the Crown as confidential, and if so

(a)  what penalties or sanctions should be imposed on police officers and other persons employed in the Public Service for breach of such confidentiality, and

(b)    without prejudicing the basic concepts of freedom of the press, whether persons, other than public servants, should be sanctioned and if so, what class of persons and to what extent.

(3)  to make such enquiry and to report upon any matter which you consider to be incidentally connected with any of the matters referred to in paragraphs (1) and (2).

AND WE DO by these Presents confer upon you, the said Commissioner, the power of summoning before you any witness or witnesses and of requiring all such witnesses to give evidence orally or in writing upon oath or solemn affirmation, and to produce such documents and things as you, the said Commissioner, may deem requisite to the full investigation of the matter which you are appointed to enquire into;

AND WE DO by these Presents authorize you, the said Commissioner, to adopt such procedure and methods as you, the said Commissioner, may from time to time deem expedient for the proper conduct of the enquiry and to sit at such times and places as you, the said Commissioner, may from time to time decide;

AND FURTHER, We require you, with as little delay as possible to report to us your findings upon the matters herein submitted for your consideration.

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF We have caused these Our Letters to be made Patent and the Great Seal of Newfoundland to be hereunto affixed.

WITNESS:  Our trusty and well beloved the Honourable Gordon Arnaud Winter, Officer of Our Order of Canada, Lieutenant-Governor in and for Our Province of Newfoundland.

AT OUR GOVERNMENT HOUSE in Our City of St. John's this 23rd day of February in the year of Our Lord one thousand nine hundred and seventy-nine and in the Twenty-eighth year of Our Reign.

Deputy Registrar General

At my request and in accordance with my recommendation His Honour the Lieutenant Governor in Council appointed Frederick R. Woolridge Esq., Q.C. of Corner Brook to be Commission Counsel and Paul Stapleton Esq., Barrister and Solicitor of St. John's to be Assistant Counsel and Secretary.  Hearings of the Commission had to be scheduled in order to accommodate prior judicial and professional commitments of myself as Commissioner and of Counsel. The first sittings took place in St. John's on Monday and Tuesday, April 2nd and 3rd, 1978, [See note below*] followed by further sittings on Monday and Tuesday, April 9th and 10th, At those sittings 21 witnesses gave sworn testimony.

On April 10th I adjourned the hearings to Wednesday, May 16th in order to provide ample opportunity for interested persons or groups to prepare briefs relating to the recommendations I was asked to make under Section 2 of the Terms of Reference. 

In order that the widest possible publicity might be given to my invitation for  briefs, the Secretary to the Commission placed advertisements in 13 newspapers in the Province. In addition, he wrote the following, inviting them to submit briefs:

  • Royal Newfoundland Constabulary 
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police 
  • Police Brotherhood [Editor’s note:  now the RNC Association] 
  • Treasury Board 
  • Newfoundland Association of Public Employees 
  • Law Society of Newfoundland 
  • Canadian Bar Association

At the hearing on May 16th I received a brief from Frederick J. Evans and another on behalf of the Criminal Justice Section of the Newfoundland Branch of the Canadian Bar Association,  I also received a letter on behalf of the Commanding Officer of "B" Division of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I do not know, nor can I conclude, whether the sparse response to the invitation for briefs indicates indifference to the subject matter or confidence in the Commissioner.  In any case, it means that recommendations may very well be based largely on my own research, with the assistance of Counsel. It also means that the recommendations will be submitted as a second part of my report.  The first part consists of my findings of fact.


*  The year in this sentence is evidently wrong and is likely a simple typographical error. It should be 1979.  The fire at Elizabeth Towers took place on April 26, 1978.   Soper conducted his first hearings the following April.

Note on this edition:  Commissioner Soper submitted his original first report in 47 pages of typescript. The format of the pages is typical of the time.  Sections are denoted by underlining.  The first line of paragraphs is indented by about one inch in addition to being separated from the previous paragraph by double spaces. In the commission, some portions are flush right, some are centred and others are flush left. 

The title of statutes is not underlined although, by the convention of the time they should have been.

This edition is the result of scanning of the original typed pages.  Each scan was edited to correct any obvious errors in scanning (e.g.  “ray” in the scanned version instead of “my” in the original.)  Errors persist despite several edits.

Section titles are given in bold print and underlining.  As much as possible, all text is presented flush left.  This includes sections such as the numbered and lettered paragraphs in the commission which were indented in the original. Capitalization is as it was in the original.

Direct quotations from evidence given at the inquiry are are presented as in the original.  That is, they are denoted by quotation marks if the section is short and included in the body of a sentence.  In the case of lengthier excerpts, they are given indented and in italics.

There are no texts or tables.

Note on the Public Inquiries Act, RSN 1970, c. 314.  The Public Inquiries Act under which Soper received his commission continued through the statute revision in 1990.  A new inquires law passed the legislature swiftly in 2006, after the House of Assembly spending scandal broke, and received assent in December that year.