Police were called to the Salvation Army in Whitehorse on Tuesday after an altercation between a staff member and an intoxicated man outside the centre.
The physical confrontation ended after the Salvation Army worker punched the man in the face.
The RCMP have not laid any charges.
The worker and another witness at the scene give different accounts of what happened.
Shannon Miller, who was there at the time, said she wasn’t sure who started the fight, but both people “engaged.” But she said it wasn’t a fair fight, because the homeless man was “so drunk he couldn’t defend himself.”
“The worker from Sally Ann went at him and punched the shit out of him,” she said. “He was a big dude. You could already see he had an attitude.”
She said the man was left lying on the ground and other witnesses helped him up.
The worker, who spoke with the News under condition of anonymity, said that’s not what happened.
He said he had just arrived for his shift when he was called out to deal with this man after he’d hit someone else over the head with a bucket outside the shelter. He said the man has been an ongoing problem at the Salvation Army, and had been banned for poor behaviour but kept coming back.
“This guy is always into trouble. That’s the thing. He’s always up to no good,” he said. “Everybody kind of fears him, all the clients, because he bullies everybody.”
He said he told the man to leave. Instead, the man stood up and started swinging at him. The worker said he backed up before the man could hit him.
“He took a swing, so just out of self-defence for myself, I hit him and that was the end of that.”
The worker said the man fell over when he punched him in the face, but he didn’t draw blood. He said he only hit him once.
“There’s no qualms here, because I protected myself,” he said. “I can’t have somebody swinging at me.”
The worker wasn’t sure who called the police, but said they arrived on the scene quickly. He said he showed them the security camera footage of the entire incident, including the previous altercation between the two men outside.
It’s not clear if charges will be laid in either incident.
Salvation Army executive director Ian McKenzie said staff should not use force to deal with unruly clients and he acknowledged that something went wrong in this case.
“Generally speaking, the first response is to just ask the individual to leave the premises if they’re creating a difficulty,” he said. “And we only do that where there is behaviour that presents a risk to other residents at the shelter or our staff directly.”
Failing that, staff should return to the building and call police immediately.
Workers also carry panic buttons that connect to a security company. In this case, the worker didn’t press his button.
“My first reaction was not to push a button, that’s not my first thought,” he said. “My first thought is to protect myself.”
McKenzie said the Salvation Army does occasionally bring up a trainer from Outside to teach non-violent responses. But the centre doesn’t have the funding to do that every time a new employee is hired.
This worker was hired in December 2015 and has only had basic training — a brief session where he talked through how he would respond to certain situations.
McKenzie said he’s spoken with Health and Social Services and Corrections about cooperating to reduce the cost of bringing a trainer to the Yukon.
Still, he said these incidents are rare. There may have been only two incidents in the last year when employees were attacked by clients.
The worker also said it can be difficult to keep people who’ve been barred from the Salvation Army off the premises. The centre reserves the right not to serve people whose behaviour poses a risk to others, though the bans are temporary.
The worker said there are a handful of people who keep getting barred but who won’t stay away, including this man.
McKenzie said the new Salvation Army centre under construction on Fourth Avenue will have an enclosed smoking area outside the facility, so people will have to come through the front intake before they can sit there.
“It’ll be easier to sort of control the flow of people,” he said. “But at the moment, we don’t have the capacity to do that.”
McKenzie said the worker won’t necessarily lose his job for punching the man. He said the centre’s response could range from more training to some sort of disciplinary action to termination.
“It really depends on what we determine from further investigation … into what happened,” he said.
The worker said he’s not sure what he would do if he were faced with the same situation a second time. But he insists he’s not a violent person.
“The Salvation Army serves a good purpose and so do the people that work for it,” he said. “I’m not a bad guy, believe me.”
Contact Maura Forrest at