Two Dawson City residents who were accosted by a Yukon Energy employee over Black Lives Matter posters placed on power poles say they’re unsatisfied with how the utility handled the situation.
While Yukon Energy has issued general condemnations of racism, Elaine Corden and Savannah McKenzie said they felt the utility failed to take accountability for the racist actions of its employee or outline how it plans to fix the situation.
“They’ve done terribly,” Corden said in an interview Aug. 4.
She and McKenzie were among the Dawson residents who attended a Black Lives Matter rally June 6 that doubled as a vigil for Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Afro-Indigenous woman who fatally fell from a Toronto apartment balcony after police entered the unit.
McKenzie was among the organizers of the event, which saw posters with “Black Lives Matter” put up around town.
Both she and Corden were leaving the event, separately, when they encountered the employee.
The News is not naming him because it has been unable to reach him directly for comment.
Corden said she saw the man, who said he was a Yukon Energy employee “acting on orders,” tearing down Black Lives Matter posters attached to a power pole as she was walking home. The man told her he didn’t agree with the posters and that “all lives matter,” she said, and when she tried to explain why the phrase wasn’t acceptable — it dismisses and diminishes the racism Black people face — he became “very aggressive” and began cursing at her and the organizers of the rally.
He then “stormed off,” and she took a picture of him. Corden said she kept walking home, but the man suddenly pulled up next to her in a truck and told her he wanted to apologize.
Corden said she felt he was more concerned about the fact that she had taken his picture and kept saying, “all lives matter.”
McKenzie, meanwhile, said she was walking with a group when the employee pulled up next to them, asked who had organized the event and told them they couldn’t put on posters on “his power poles.”
He also said the posters should say “all lives matter,” McKenzie wrote in an email, and that it “became clear that (the man) was being aggressive and racist.”
“(Organizers) had been worried about the safety of our speakers and protest participants from the beginning, and this interaction confirmed that this concern was a valid one,” she wrote.
Corden said she emailed her photo to Yukon Energy, and while she was encouraged when it quickly launched an investigation into the issue, the results were disappointing.
Yukon Energy posted a statement on Facebook July 14 saying it completed a “review of the incident” that “the matter has been addressed,” but couldn’t share details due for privacy reasons.
The utility also emailed what it said was a letter from the employee to some complainants as well as media on July 29.
“I now understand that the statements I made could serve to diminish the impacts of racism on our marginalized community members and while it was not my intention, I wholeheartedly apologize if any statements I made, or actions I took, on June 6th hurt or intimidated anyone,” the letter, signed “a Yukon Energy Employee” reads in part.
It also says he will be leaving Dawson.
Yukon Energy CEO Andrew Hall told the News in an email Aug. 4 the employee chose to sign the letter with “a Yukon Energy Employee.”
Hall said the utility rejects “racism and discrimination of any kind in the strongest terms” and is “reviewing business policies, processes and procedures to ensure they promote diversity and inclusion, and will be providing more training to employees.”
Corden, who was sent a copy of the letter, described it as “out of touch” and “inadequate.”
While she understood the employee’s right to privacy, she said she expected Yukon Energy to explain the steps it was taking to ensure a similar situation wouldn’t arise with any of its employees again and that employees would receive adequate anti-racism and racial sensitivity training.
“They did none of that, but that’s what I would really like to see,” she said.
McKenzie, who didn’t receive the letter but has seen a copy, said she was “incredibly frustrated” by what she saw as a “non-response,” and that simply choosing to relocate the employee from Dawson “shows that there are effectively no repercussions for his actions.”
She suggested Yukon Energy could have committed to providing cultural and anti-racist training to its employees, hiring more Black, Indigenous or people of colour, making donations to Black Lives Matter organizations or firing the employee.
“He was racist, he terrified our community members, and he made us feel unsafe in our own community,” McKenzie wrote. “Sending him (away) will not undo that hurt, and does not prevent it from happening again.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org