Kirsty Wells, co-owner of Molotov and Bricks, poses for a photo during a membership rally organized by the Friends of Many Rivers at the Whitehorse Public Library on Feb. 20. Wells, a Many Rivers client, is upset at the news of the recent layoffs. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukoners react to the Many Rivers layoffs

‘I need help right now’

Her frustration is palpable. She needs services that are to be put on hiatus. It is unclear when they will be back.

To the management of Many Rivers that laid off 16 employees this week, Kirsty Wells, co-owner of Molotov and Bricks, said, “Why are you getting paid to do a job that involves taking care of the mental health in your community? Why aren’t you doing your job?”

Wells said the issue is double-barrelled: the Yukon government is to blame, too.

“Why aren’t you taking care of us?” she said. “I’m having a really hard time. I need help right now.”

On Feb. 20, the Friends of Many Rivers, a public organization, rallied Yukoners to sign membership forms at the Whitehorse Public Library. Wells attended.

Roughly 80 applications were signed, said Wendy Morrison, a member of the group, and more could trickle in from those who couldn’t attend the event on Wednesday.

While the forms aren’t legitimate, they pinpoint how many people are eager to sign up, she said. When and if the time comes, Morrison added, and membership is re-opened, the forms could be submitted then.

Becoming a member entitles people to vote during annual general meetings, she said.

Many people, Morrison said, are calling for such a meeting “to get things back on track,” adding that the hope is that Many Rivers and, or the Yukon government initiate one “as soon as possible.”

“It’s a support of the organization and its vision, but also kind of a community, collective frustration of not being able to be engaged with a not-for-profit as we should be able to,” she said.

“The doors have been locked. Emails aren’t answered. Phone calls aren’t answered. As a community, we’re just trying to participate in the due to process.”

An independent investigator has been called in by the Registrar of Societies to deal with several complaints, which are outlined in the investigative report. Some involve membership rejections.

The organization claims, in a press release, that the investigator found that it “acted reasonably and in good faith in rejecting applications at issue.”

“The applications were rejected on the basis that they were incomplete and due to concerns that the applicants were likely not eligible for membership,” the statement says.

The report, however, has a less than firm conclusion about this, saying that “it seems probable” Many Rivers acted in good faith in terms of the membership issue.

“Generally the facts show considerable delay by the Society in responding to or addressing the membership applications,” the report says. “In addition, the facts show confusion over the requirements of the Society as to what forms were required and how and when the applications would be processed….”

The investigator also says that a hearing isn’t possible under the current act.

“For that reason, I have not interviewed the complainants, the society’s executive director, the society’s board members or any other possible witnesses to the conversations reported in the submissions and complaints,” the report says.

The organization will remain non-compliant until the registrar completes its review.

“The Registrar will make a decision based on the report and any response(s) received from Many Rivers or the complainants,” said Sunny Patch, director of communications for the premier’s office this week.

Submissions can be entered until Mar. 4.

Many Rivers has failed to file annual reports and financial statements since July 2018 as required by the Societies Act. Government funding hinges on being compliant with the act.

The layoffs will be staggered, beginning on Feb. 22 and ending on Mar. 22, Steve Geick, president of the Yukon Employees’ Union said this week. Of the 16 layoff notices he’s received, 12 are counsellors, the rest are administrative staff.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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