Supporters of a Whitehorse café facing eviction from the Yukonstruct building gathered at the space Nov. 12 to rally behind owner Brioni Connolly and denounce what they say is the unfair treatment she’s receiving.
About a dozen people, including a number of toddlers and children, were mingling in the seating and dining area of The Poor Creature café around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, enjoying snacks and drinks as Connolly set up business for the day.
Connolly and Yukonstruct have been locked in a public tenant-landlord dispute since mid-October, when Connolly shared on social media that Yukonstruct would not be renewing her one-year lease at the end of the month.
The issue escalated on Nov. 7 when Yukonstruct filed a petition to the Yukon Supreme Court, requesting what amounts to an eviction order.
The matter was scheduled to appear in court Wednesday afternoon.
In its legal filings, Yukonstruct and executive director Lana Selbee claimed there was no indication the lease would be renewed and that Yukonstruct’s relationship with Connolly had deteriorated over complaints about Connolly’s child allegedly screaming and crying for hours.
Connolly, however, has maintained that she was under the impression the lease was going to be renewed, and in an interview during the rally said she was hurt by Yukonstruct suggesting that she and her husband were neglectful parents.
“I decided to have (the rally) today just to push back on the pretty horrible allegations that were put out by Yukonstruct … (and I) really just wanted to highlight how much of a struggle it is to be a mother and to try and run a business,” she said.
“I just think we all need to support women a lot more… I’m disappointed and I’m not a neglectful mother, I’m just a working mother at the end of the day.”
Susie Leaman, who said she met Connolly through The Poor Creature and now considers her a friend, was among the supporters at the rally. She brought her husband, Shane Maley, and their eight-month-old daughter with her.
“The Poor Creature’s a super important space for myself and my husband and our daughter,” she said. “… It’s a beautiful space to come to, the food’s delicious, Brioni and (her husband) Traolach are both super friendly and fantastic people, so we’re really here to support them and make sure that they feel supported and that they know they’re important within the community.”
Leaman said she thought Yukonstruct was “stooping pretty low” by bringing Connolly’s child into the matter.
“I think to bring someone’s family into a business decision is completely unacceptable,” she said, adding that, as a café patron, she’s never noticed any issues with noise from children or otherwise.
Leaman’s husband agreed, saying that he’s visited Yukonstruct at least once a week for the past year and has never had a problem.
“I’ve come here often to write, to work, I’ve conducted interviews in this space and I’ve never had any disruption to my work,” he said.
He added that he’s had “quite a few meetings” in the co-space — a working area adjacent to the Poor Creature, separated by a wall that doesn’t extend all the way to the ceiling and where Yukonstruct claims the noise complaints are coming from — and “never noticed any disruption any of the times that I’ve been here.”
A handful of people, many of them with headphones on, were working in the co-space area as The Poor Creature’s rally took place.
Among them was PhD student Émilie Lavoie, who told the News that she’d been a member for about two and a half months and has never had an issue with The Poor Creature.
“I do have to say I am a user that works well in a café environment anyway — I’m not the type to be disturbed by that type of background noise and I also have a toddler, so for me, children’s sounds coming from a mother-and-child-friendly cafe is just normalcy for me,” she said.
Asked if she had ever heard a child crying or screaming for hours while she was at co-space, Lavoie responded, “Never witnessed that, absolutely not.” She added that, if anything, The Poor Creature has “positively” impacted her productivity by making snacks and drinks easily accessible and available.
“I hope this gets resolved for both parties as quickly as possible,” she said. “I think the way the media is sharing the story is damaging to both Poor Creature and Yukonstruct … There are pretty good organizations on both ends and they have their interesting things to bring to the community and it’d be good to have them both come out of this intact.”
Connolly’s lawyer, Vincent Larochelle, said he intends to seek “equitable relief” for his client, and that her “default position” is that the lease had been renewed based on how Yukonstruct had conducted itself in the months leading up to October.
“It’s unconscionable for Yukonstruct to withdraw suddenly, as it has, from its representations,” he said.
At the very least, Larochelle said, Connolly will be asking that The Poor Creature be allowed to remain in place until April as she looks for a new location — a timeframe, he said, is reasonable, considering how tight real estate in Whitehorse is.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org