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Corner store fights deceitful handling by regulators

The Yukon's lottery and liquor regulators are trying to sink Ken Achtymichuk's mini-mall convenience store.

The Yukon’s lottery and liquor regulators are trying to sink Ken Achtymichuk’s mini-mall convenience store.

“They’re coming at me like a pack of wolves,” says Ken, who co-owns Heather’s Snack Haven in Porter Creek with his wife Heather.

You won’t hear the Yukon Liquor Board or the Yukon Lottery Commission put it that way, but a lengthy track record of manipulation and deceit on their behalf has undermined every attempt by the small business to make a profit, he says.

First, there was a year-long saga with the lottery commission, which tried to force Ken to end his Keno service earlier than other lottery outlets when a policy change took place in May 2008.

He fought back, going to court and winning a judicially sanctioned settlement with the lottery commission in June 2009.

A news release drafted by the commission was curiously specific.

“Heather Achtymichuk will be (Heather’s Snack Haven’s) contact person with (the Yukon Liquor Commission),” it read.

Ken was no longer the store’s point man, according to the settlement, but he did find it strange the commission mentioned that frivolous detail in its terse, four-sentence release.

A month and a half later, Ken got a letter from the commission that required him to sign three copies of renewed agreements the commission was delivering to all lottery retailers.

“Dear Ken,” says the August 18 letter. “Please sign all three copies where indicated and send them back to us in the prepaid envelope.”

Ken signed.

The following month, a letter from the Justice Department on behalf of the commission accused Ken of breaking his settlement agreement. The letter was sent to Graham Lang, Ken’s lawyer.

“It has been brought to my attention that Ken Achtymichuk has communicated with the Yukon Liquor Commission by altering and placing his signature on a document Yukon Liquor Corporation supplied to Heather’s Snack Haven ... contrary to the settlement agreement,” says the September 23 letter.

No mention is made that the agreements were sent to Ken personally, not Heather.

“I couldn’t trust them anymore,” Ken said about the incident.

So he decided to abandon the lottery service, despite the business it brought to his tiny store just off Wann Road.

“I don’t make enough money to be fighting government lawyers with the lottery,” he said.

Enter the Yukon Liquor Board.

Ken and his wife redirected their attention toward getting a liquor licence.

They studied the regulations, discovered they needed to improve their restaurant service, and redesigned their business accordingly.

“I needed to put in a sink, but that was easy,” he said.

In the back of their store there’s now a dozen tables and, while being interviewed for this story, a couple of men came in for lunch.

But on January 27 this year, the liquor board, an arm’s length quasi-judicial body under the liquor corporation, denied their request for an off-sales licence.

“And they gave no reasons,” he said.

The letter, signed by the board’s chair Wayne Cousins, lists a dozen or so sections from the Yukon Liquor Act Regulations, but doesn’t offer any detail.

The board eventually sent a three-paragraph page with some more details, stating the rationale behind the dismissal was because the business had only been open two weeks.

But the snack haven has been open since 2006.

And Ken’s heard of much smoother off-licence requests around town.

“They’re using the regulations for whatever they want,” he said.

The Achtymichuks eventually went to court over the matter earlier this year.

On February 24, the store put in a request for a transcript of the board meeting that rejected their liquor licence.

They still haven’t received it.

“They’ve shown no respect for the judicial process,” he said, citing the recent liquor licence problems and the manipulative way the lottery commission used the court-sanctioned settlement agreement.

Meanwhile, the liquor corporation is pulling another name game on the store owners.

They’ve addressed a March 12 letter to both Ken and Heather, despite only having had Heather deal with the application.

She replied on March 24, explaining that Heather’s Snack Haven was a corporation, and that despite their 50-50 split of the corporation’s shares, it doesn’t mean Ken is required to be addressed.

Furthermore, a liquor licence application requires an officer and an agent to be included for background checks.

Heather is the officer. The store’s manager, Rhonda Fenner, is the agent.

On March 26, the corporation’s acting director, Scott Gauthier, continued to insist Ken be put on the application.

Ken doesn’t want to go on the application because of the conflict-of-interest in his earlier dealings with the lottery commission.

The commission’s president, Ron MacMillan, is also the liquor corporation deputy minister.

“I can’t respond because I could get in trouble,” he said.

MacMillan refused to comment Wednesday, citing liquor corporation vice-president Virginia Labelle as the go-to on the snack haven file.

“But because it’s before the courts, I’m not sure what we can say.”

Contact James Munson at