A local First Nation elder says the security guards at the Qwanlin Mall are treating him and his people unfairly.
Sweeney Scurvey, a member of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, said he was minding his own business scratching a lottery ticket outside the mall earlier this month when an employee of Sirius Security approached him and told him to leave.
“What this guard didn’t expect was for me to stand up to him. I told him that I was here on business. I mentioned that I knew people in Extra Foods and Shoppers Drug Mart, and reminded him that I was an elder,” Scurvey said.
“He said, ‘I don’t care. They can’t do anything to me anyway,’” he said.
Scurvey’s apartment in the McIntyre Village was under construction at the time, so he couldn’t go home. He had planned to spend his afternoon downtown as he often does, but said the guard continued to harass him until he left the property.
It would be one thing if the guard was simply rude, but the guards at the mall don’t hassle everyone equally, Scurvy said.
“He’s targeting First Nations. There were cars parking illegally in handicapped spaces all day and he didn’t do anything about it… ,” Scurvey said.
A self-described mission school survivor and “sober alcoholic,” Scurvey said he was not drinking on the day in question, though he recognizes that many from his community do struggle with substance abuse issues. But that shouldn’t make them targets for discrimination, he said.
“He (the guard) is living in the wrong century,” Scurvey said.
It’s not the first time people have raised concerns about the guards at the mall. A Kwanlin Dun staff member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they have heard many similar complains from other elders, and Scurvey said the issue was brought to KDFN chief and council.
No one from the First Nation’s government responded to numerous calls for comment.
But Sirius Security owner Sonny Gray said that people critical of his employees work are ignoring a hard truth: most of the people who loiter near the mall and the liquor store are First Nations.
“This job that my security guards are doing, it’s not a fun job. There’s nothing about this job that’s enjoyable. Having to act like a watchdog in that particular neighbourhood is extremely difficult,” Gray said.
“The lottery ticket incident - he (Scurvy) was intoxicated at the time. My guard remembers it. That’s not going to come out at the time. There are two sides to every story. At the end of the day, we have a mandate. The store ownership has given us a mandate, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.
Gray is one of a number of advocates pushing for the territory to create trespassing legislation, but there has been a lot of blowback from local housing advocacy groups and support services who help people on the street.
Many critics say that trespassing laws would only further criminalize homelessness.
Gray’s employees also patrol Yukon Housing buildings at night, and do private security for events around town. A trespassing act would give Gray’s guards more powers to enforce anti-loitering rules, but he said there is more to the issue than just kicking people off the curb outside Extra Foods.
The thing that his critics seem to be forgetting, Gray said, is that while its true his guards are moving people away from high traffic areas and further out of sight, just leaving them where they are to get drunk on the street isn’t a solution either.
“The person who is smoking crack, or drinking, and isn’t welcome in their home community anymore? Where are they going to go?
“I understand where (the critics) are coming from. Those people are marginalized, for sure, but it’s not my job as a security provider to solve those problems. That’s the social responsibility of the governments, both federal and territorial, to do a better job,” he said.
For every critic who opposes the work his guards do, Gray said he hears thanks from store owners and patrons who feel safer when his guards are on watch.
Gray said his employees have worked with Yukon College’s Northern Institute for Social Justice to help gain cultural sensitivity for their work, and he plans for that to continue.
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