Gag order found at Tantalus School

‘Employees discussing this project with government representatives or elected officials without the authority of this office will have their…

‘Employees discussing this project with government representatives or elected officials without the authority of this office will have their employment immediately terminated.”

This threat has been posted at Carmacks’ Tantalus School — which is being built by Inuvik-based Dowland Contracting Ltd.

The posted threat raises questions about why it was put up, why it wasn’t taken down by the government or company inspectors and why several safety violations have not been investigated at the site, said the NDP’s Steve Cardiff.

“I don’t know what there is to hide, as far as what’s going on at the jobsite or how the building is being constructed,” said Cardiff on Wednesday.

“But if the contractor or the government has something to hide, I don’t feel this is an appropriate way of putting pressure on employees not to talk.”

Cardiff found, and took down, the computer-printed sign down during a guided tour of the school on Easter Monday, he said.

It was posted on a notice board in the school’s main foyer.

It was hard to miss, he said.

A worker told him about the sign, noting it had been there for more than a month, he said.

During his school tour, he wasn’t asked to wear steel-toed boots, was allowed to smoke a cigarette close to diesel tanks and saw workers without hard hats on, he said.

“Between that and I don’t know what else is going on at the jobsite, that’s the only reason that I can see for a notice being posted,” said Cardiff.

 Cardiff took a guided tour and noted that none of the workers talked to him while he was there.

“It flies in the face of something this government has promised for a number years — more effective whistleblower legislation — which is something they’ve failed to move on,” said Cardiff. “That’s what whistleblower legislation is designed to prevent: this type of a gag order.”

Cardiff tabled the sign in the Yukon legislature on Wednesday.

But he removed harsh, handwritten expletives scrawled below the main text because it would likely have been ruled out of order, he said.

Community Services Minister Glenn Hart had no knowledge of the sign until Cardiff tabled it, he said.

The gag-order sign is the latest Tantalus School controversy.

The building is behind schedule.

So far, it has cost more than $11.5 million, $2.2 million more than the estimated cost in 2005, when Dowland won the school contract.

Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation opposed plans to attach a Yukon College satellite campus to the school.

Though the college addition was part of the original plans it was dropped by Premier Dennis Fentie in October 2005.

And last September, Han Construction of Dawson City filed a lawsuit against Dowland in Yukon Supreme Court.

Han is seeking more than $65,000 in damages in a dispute with the company over work at the school.

So who put the sign up?

Nobody is fessing up.

Dowland’s project manager Larry Whelan is on vacation and can’t be reached for comment, said fellow Dowland employee Mike Johnson on Wednesday.

The sign is not Dowland’s doing, said company president Patrick McGuiness from Inuvik.

“If I had ever seen this I certainly would have removed it,” said McGuiness on Thursday. “It certainly wasn’t approved.”

“This is not and has never has been a company-approved sign. So whoever put it up, it is not a company issue. We do not and will not ever get into anybody’s rights to talk to their MLA about anything.”

There are between 20 and 30 Dowland workers at the Tantalus site. Other sub-contractors come and go, said McGuiness,

“We’re going to look into it; it’ll take us a bit of time.”

Dowland will “certainly” look into Cardiff’s alleged safety infractions, he added.

Hart and other government ministers should dispatch employment standards board officials to investigate the jobsite, said Cardiff.

As well, government officials should figure out why property management agency inspectors didn’t remove the threatening notice, or inform their superiors about it, he said.

“We were obviously unaware of any signage on the worksite,” said Hart on Thursday. “If we had authorized it, it obviously would have been on our letterhead or the contractor’s letterhead.

 “In essence, the agreement between the workers and the company is their responsibility and, really, all our aspects that we’ll be doing is ensuring that the company lives up to its contribution agreement in ensuring the appropriate permits and licences are obtained at the appropriate time.”

Property management has an individual in charge of overseeing the school project who goes “on a regular basis to ascertain what’s happening,” said Hart.

So why wasn’t the sign taken down?

Who knows how long the sign has been in the school, replied Hart.

“It could have been one day, two days — I don’t know, I was totally unaware of the situation,” he said.