The Canada Post building in Yellowknife on September 21, 2023. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio
Health minister Julie Green says the removal of raised planters that acted as public seating in downtown Yellowknife is “truly appalling.”
Building owner 6133 NWT Ltd told Cabin Radio on Thursday that planters outside the downtown post office had been removed at Canada Post’s request.
The planters, broad enough for people to use them as seating, served as a gathering-place for residents from all walks of life, including people experiencing homelessness. There are few other public seating areas downtown.
“It’s not really something that a lot of us really wanted to do, because we know that it’s a place where a person can sit, run into people they know, and watch the world go by,” said Sandra McDaniel, vice-president of JV Developments, which part-owns 6133 NWT Ltd.
“But it was a respect issue, too, you know? People just would not step up and leave it tidy.”
Online, some residents said they had experienced harassment while crossing past the planters to reach the post office. Post office staff have privately expressed concern in the past, and 6133 NWT Ltd has previously described complaints from tenants regarding public drinking, harassment, and people using the property as a washroom.
In a statement released in 2014, when benches outside the same building were removed, 6133 NWT Ltd president Darrell Beaulieu said discussion of seating outside the post office was needed to “spotlight the growing social issues that have been brewing in our downtown core.”
“It may be an opportunity for us all to share what the best solution would be to help solve this issue. This would include ourselves as building owners, the City of Yellowknife, citizens and people that are on our streets in the downtown core,” Beaulieu wrote at the time.
As the planters – which replaced the benches as Yellowknife’s main downtown seating – disappeared this week, that conversation appeared to have advanced little.
One woman told broadcaster CKLB the planters had been a place to congregate and “check on one another to make sure: are you still alive?”
“I’m not a child, but they took something away that belonged to us,” they were quoted as saying.
On X, formerly known as Twitter, Minister Green – who holds responsibility for health and social services in the Northwest Territories – wrote: “This is truly appalling. It penalizes and further marginalizes the vulnerable/homeless sector who, by the way, are residents of Yellowknife.
“Taking the planters away isn’t going to make this population go away. Time to embrace these residents and treat them with humanity.”
Asked what she might do as minister to intervene, Green responded: “I am going to write a letter to the mayor and council. I can’t reinstate the planters.”
So far, there’s no suggestion that the city had any involvement in the decision to remove the planters.
“My uncle is homeless. He frequently sits in front of the Canada Post building in downtown Yellowknife. Being a central location, my family can easily check up on him, and find him with little effort,” Morgan Tsetta wrote on X.
“I am disgusted at this blatant display of hostile architecture.
“How does the city expect to care for, and find vulnerable populations in an emergency, like we just experienced with the wildfire evacuations? Shame on all parties involved in this callous decision.”
In an email to Cabin Radio, Canada Post spokesperson Janick Cormier wrote: “We understand the concerns, however Canada Post leases this facility and does not own the flower beds outside of the building. These belong to the leaseholder.”
McDaniel said the area where the planters were located will be tidied as part of ongoing renovation work, and could be used for pop-up booths and activities in summer.