Nearly a year after pledging to investigate alleged unsafe working conditions at Yellowknife’s day and sobering centre, the NWT government now says it let the shelter investigate itself.
While the NWT’s Health and Social Services Authority chose not to directly investigate the allegations, the territorial government said it asked police to look into the anonymous whistleblowers.
A health authority spokesperson said the authority and the NWT Disabilities Council – which operates the shelter under contract with the health and social services authority – had requested that RCMP investigate the “unsanctioned disclosure” of information. Police ultimately laid no charges.
In late March 2021, people who had worked at the centre on 50 St told Cabin Radio conditions at the facility put staff and vulnerable people at risk. They alleged inadequate training, understaffing, a lack of accountability and oversight, and mistreatment of staff.
Shelter staff said their concerns and recommendations to management were often left unanswered, dismissed, or challenged by leadership.
The NWT Health and Social Services Authority – or NTHSSA – subsequently said it had launched an investigation into the allegations, with the territory’s director of community health and wellness telling the CBC the government had hired a lawyer to do so.
Health and social services minister Julie Green said in April 2021 the matter was “being taken seriously” and once the investigation was complete, information would be made public.
When Cabin Radio inquired about the status of that investigation in January, however, the health authority said the NWT Disabilities Council completed its own, internal review of the complaints. The health authority said it was “satisfied that no further action was required.”
Declining an interview with Cabin Radio, Green instead issued a written statement.
“At the time that these claims were brought forward, the intent was to investigate them. As we began looking into completing an investigation, I did mention it would be the department or the NTHSSA that would lead this,” the statement acknowledges.
“However, as things moved forward it became clear that, due to the employer-employee relationship and the nature of the concerns brought forward, the organization that would be best-positioned to complete the investigation was the NWT Disabilities Council.”
The findings of the council’s internal investigation are not public. Whether any changes have been made to address staff concerns is not clear.
The NWT Disabilities Council did not respond to Cabin Radio’s requests for comment.
Denise McKee, the council’s executive director, said in a March 2021 written statement that the council “takes the care, welfare, safety and security of its staff and clients very seriously and adheres to health and safety legislation and all contractual requirements.”
McKee said there was a clear internal reporting process for concerns.
The NWT Health and Social Services Authority declined to answer questions about the NWT Disabilities Council’s investigation, referring Cabin Radio to the council.
In mid-January, health authority spokesperson David Maguire – asked how the government’s investigation was proceeding – said the authority and NWT Disabilities Council “met immediately following the media reports to discuss the unsanctioned disclosure.”
“The NTHSSA and the NWT Disabilities Council (NWTDC) referred the unsanctioned disclosure by the anonymous individual or individuals to the RCMP to investigate. However, no charges were laid by the RCMP,” Maguire continued.
“The NWTDC undertook its own review as a result of the anonymous and unsanctioned disclosure with the result that the NTHSSA was satisfied that no further action was required.”
At the RCMP’s NWT headquarters, Corporal Matt Halstead confirmed to Cabin Radio that officers in Yellowknife conducted an investigation into the matter. He said no charges were laid and the investigation is now closed.