A Yellowknife man is calling out City Hall’s “anti-public” culture after he says he was unfairly banned from a recreational facility last fall.
With no running water at his Kam Lake home, lifelong resident Jerald Sibbeston would regularly visit the Fieldhouse, which has a “public welcome” sign affixed to its front door, to use the washroom and shower.
This state of affairs persisted until Oct. 3, 2017.
“As I left the Fieldhouse [that] morning after using the “open to the public” washrooms, like I do most mornings … I was handed this libelous and deceitful paper full of lies,” Sibbeston wrote in a Facebook post published on Oct. 3, of last year.
The paper in question was a letter dated Oct. 2, 2017 and signed by city facilities manager Dave Hurley. It notified Sibbeston he was barred from entering the building for three months. Citing a violation of the city’s “public parks and recreational facilities” bylaw, the letter alleges Sibbeston verbally abused and threatened a Fieldhouse staff member on “Oct. 26 of this year” – an erroneous date likely meant to read August, according to Sibbeston, who said that’s when the incident occurred.
But Sibbeston has rejected what he calls a “fabricated” version of events put forth by the city.
After using the Fieldhouse’s second floor change room showers the day the alleged threats were made, Sibbeston said he walked downstairs, where a discussion between himself, a man he identified as the “facility manager” and another staff member took place. At some point, talks turned to Sibbeston paying for the shower he had just taken, as all visitors are required to pay a fee to access the change room showers.
The upper level change room is situated steps away from the recreational area’s entrance – behind a “flex pass” card reader attached to the wall.
With no requirement to swipe before entering the change room – and with the impression that the front door’s “public welcome”sign applied to the entire building – Sibbeston said he believed he was within his rights not to pay.
“I asked if I could not pay. They refused. So I paid without making a scene … I did all this calmly and respectfully,” Sibbeston told Yellowknifer, rebuking the city’s claims he had been verbally abusive.
“Never happened. Total lie. It’s difficult for me to swallow because I’m just not that kind of a guy. I’m actually a pretty rational, calm individual,” he said.
In an email to the Yellowknifer earlier this month, the city’s communications manager Richard McIntosh addressed Sibbeston’s ban in general terms, but stated the city takes violations of the by-law in question “seriously.”
“Pursuant to the City’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace … individuals acting in a threatening manner or in a contravention of (the by-law) may be directed to leave a facility and shall not return until such time as directed,” McIntosh wrote.
“Consequently, individuals behaving in a verbally abusive or threatening manner towards City employees may be banned from City facilities.”
Calling the city’s response a “doubling down” on claims he’s refuted, Sibbeston is now calling for the city to provide proof – through footage recorded from the facility’s CCTV cameras – that he acted aggressively to staff.
“I stake my reputation on this. It never happened. I challenge the city to produce this video for the public,” said Sibbeston.
But Sibbeston, isn’t just calling on the city to release evidence of the alleged altercation – he’s calling into question the very meaning of “public” spaces in Yellowknife.
“I’ve always interpreted it, as a member of the public, I’m allowed to come in and use the facilities. That’s what I would view the public welcome sign as. You’d assume that means for the change room, as well,” Sibbeston said.
During his conversation with Fieldhouse staff leading to his ban, Sibbeston said he inquired about the sign’s meaning.
“They said no, you’re going to have to pay. Instead of finding out what the public welcome sign means they just banned me,” he said.
The ban, Sibbeston said, is more about the apathy of public employees – who don’t want to clean up after him after he accesses the change room or washroom, he asserted – rather than any threats and verbal abuse.
Sibbeston also takes exception to the recreational centre’s layout, arguing that if the city was serious about enforcing fees for showers, they’d require guests to swipe their flex pass before entering the change room, not just before entering the upper recreational area.
“It almost feels like an afterthought, that they’d decided we can charge people for these showers. It just seems like they’re trying to charge the public,” he said.
Currently, there are two signs fixed on the two upper level change rooms, which both read “track users only.”
Sibbeston maintains the signs are new and that they weren’t present when the alleged incident took place.
Yellowknifer asked Fieldhouse staff how long the signs had been fixed to the change room doors, but were told to contact the city.
While Sibbeston wouldn’t lable his experience a “huge deal,” he did call it a symptom of a larger, underlying problem at City Hall.
“It is an extreme abuse of power. It’s things like this that frustrate the little citizens like me. I’ve lived here my whole life and for the last 20 years, it’s just been deteriorating.
Citing the city’s “corporate environment,” and the “soft corruption” that has followed,” Sibbeston told Yellowknifer the ban could be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back” and could prompt him to run for council – despite having the odds stacked against him.
“(City Hall) needs to change. I won’t say I’m the guy who can do it. But I’ll yell loud about it.”