Striking employees of Many Rivers Counselling & Support Services were “shocked” after they say a man “stormed onto” the picket line along Second Avenue the morning of Nov. 8.
“I’ve been union staff for 13 and a half years,” said Barb Fayant, strike coordinator. “I’ve worked a number of strikes in my career with PSAC and this is the first time I’ve seen something like this. Not just an angry person coming to the picket line, bringing violence like that, but someone who’s supposed to be a leader, whether they’re retired or not.”
Fayant said the event was one in a string of incidents that occurred before 10 a.m. on Nov. 8. She said that, following the alleged incident, two vehicles swerved toward picketers, one of which clipped the flag being held by a protester and wrenched his shoulder enough that he went to the hospital to get checked out.
Workers served strike notice on Oct. 30. They have been striking out front of Many Rivers, located at Fourth Avenue and Hawkins Street, since Nov. 5. They’re typically out, with placards and a sound system playing music, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Fayant said she was setting up the line when she heard a commotion just before 9 a.m.
She said she saw Paul Johnson, vice-president of the Yukon Employees Union, speaking loudly with a man who wouldn’t give his name.
She said Johnson told her the man had assaulted him, grabbing him by the shoulders. She said workers also told her the man had walked into the trailer that was housing sound equipment and started disconnecting cables.
“He was aggressive,” said Fayant. “He said he didn’t care about the workers, he didn’t care about their issues, that this wasn’t going to help the bargaining process. I said we had a purpose out here. These members are exercising their rights and their legislation and the Canadian constitution. And I asked him to please remove himself off this line.”
Fayant said the man refused to leave and, at one point, reached for her shoulder.
“And I said ‘do not touch me. Do not touch me,” she said.
“One of the things he said to me, which I do consider a threat, is he said ‘this is not done. It will escalate.’ So I looked at him and I said ‘yes it will. Because the RCMP have been called,’” said Fayant.
After that, she said, the man left.
Fayant said workers were shaken by the experience. She said she was told by workers that the man had approached workers twice already, earlier in the week, asking them to turn down their music. She said they complied both times, calling the strike peaceful.
“It’s pretty disappointing when the majority of these strikers are women and a man brings violence to a peaceful picket line, regardless of whatever details, the majority of these strikers are women.”
Steve Geick, president of the YEU, said he and Johnson both reported incidents to the RCMP on Nov. 8.
He said Johnson will file assault charges against the man. Geick said he will pursue charges of mischief against the man for tearing the cables from the sound system.
“There was a reported incident this morning, and the RCMP in Whitehorse did respond,” said Coralee Reid, spokesperson for the RCMP. “No charges have been laid. No further details will be provided on that.”
The News made repeated attempts to contact the man, but was not successful. No messages were returned.
Fayant said she believes every individual has the right to decide what they want to support, but that they don’t need to take action with anger.
“There’s been some suggestions on Facebook that he should probably help them get back to work so he could actually access their services,” she said.
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