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UNW breaks silence on fence
Union president writes he is not opposed to gate

Miranda Scotland
Northern News Services
Published Friday, June 15, 2012

After months of legal battles, the Union of Northern Workers has broken its silence on its objection to a tenant-proposed walkway through the union's fenced staff parking lot.

Union president Todd Parsons issued a letter to the membership Monday defending the UNW's decision to refuse putting in what he called an "unsecure" opening in the fence after MLAs began questioning the union's stance in the legislative assembly.

NNSL photo/graphic Read Parsons' letter to the union membership

"Things have been blown out of proportion," Parsons wrote. "My preference has been to follow legal counsel's advice and to remain silent while the adjudications followed their natural course. However, for the sake of our union and our proud reputation, such comments cannot go uncorrected."

The dispute about the pathway came about after a fuel spill on a neighboring property cut off access to the east side of the building in March of last year. The incident led tenants to request that an opening be made on the west side of the building through the fence because they were concerned about having to enter the building through the Aurora Tours lot next door or via the alleyway behind the building.

The UNW refused and tenants brought the issue to the NWT rental office in June of 2011 and twice in March of 2012. The rental officer ruled three separate times that the UNW must provide a temporary walkway on the west side of the building. In the two most recent decisions the officer decided that access could also be provided through the main entrance to the building. The union is appealing all three decisions.

Parsons wrote, the UNW was not opposed to installing a lockable gate on the property but it did take issue with the rental officer's decision to allow tenants 24-hour access to the front door of the UNW headquarters. It is a privacy issue, he stated.

But, Michele LeTourneau, one of the residents who fought for the walkway, said the ruling presented the UNW with an either or situation. It could either allow tenants access through the front door or through a walkway to be installed on the west side. The union does not have to provide both options.

"So that's a troubling piece of disinformation," she said, referring to Parsons statement.

The union is planning on installing the gate, Parsons wrote, adding that it will also be putting in an additional surveillance camera and upgrading its existing cameras in the back. But, those efforts have gone unnoticed by some, Parson wrote, citing comments made by MLAs in the legislative assembly.

"They see our judicial appeal as an obstruction of justice and as an attack on the rights of our tenants," the letter said. "If the critics approached us, they would know that the union has never faltered from its obligations."

Parsons also lashed out at "erroneous media reports" in his letter although he didn't specify what those were. Yellowknifer attempted to reach the president but he did not return repeated phone calls to his office.

In May, Robert Hawkins, MLA for Yellowknife Centre, said the situation is one where cars appear to more important than people and the safety of women is being overlooked. The rental officer should have more power to enforce his decisions, Hawkins added in his comments in the legislative assembly.

Wendy Bisaro, MLA for Frame Lake, echoed his sentiments about the rental officer's powers. However, Bisaro said Wednesday that her comments were not intended to call the UNW to task.

"The only reason I mentioned this particular dispute is because it was pointed out to me that the powers of the rental officer are not there to enforce his or her decisions," she said.

The rental officer ruled on Jan. 17 that the UNW must put in a temporary walkway but it hasn't yet been installed. On June 1, a judge gave the union until today to finish the job.

LeTourneau said she has seen the union speaking with a contractor about locking mechanisms for the gate, and that yesterday a hole had been cut through the fence.

"I would like nothing better than for this to be over," she said.

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