The Northwest Territories Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) denies that an act of racism took place against Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos when she visited the shelter on Feb. 1.

The SPCA issued a news release on March 5 following a story by NNSL Media where Marstelos alleged that management treated her in a discriminatory fashion in a statement during a sitting of the legislative assembly.

“I strongly feel I experienced systemic racism,” Martselos said of her trip to the animal shelter in hopes of adopting a puppy.

Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos said she experienced systemic racism at a visit to the NWT SPCA on Feb. 1. The animal shelter apologized for Marteselos’ treatment during her visit, but said that the negative experience wasn’t due to discrimination.
NNSL file photo

But in a three-page statement, the SPCA states that Martselos shouldn’t have been there in the first place because it was outside of public hours and that SPCA staff shouldn’t have given her a tour of the grounds.

The SPCA acknowledged that the MLA was treated poorly and apologized for the manager falling short of customer service standards, but added “we do not believe that racism was a factor in the incident, nor do we believe that is it an issue within our organization.”

The SPCA admitted that the staff member was “likely curt, and possibly irritated” in telling Martselos that the puppy she wanted was no longer available for adoption. However, the “understandably irritated” manager was upset because of a breach of internal protocol where she found “all staff on duty gathered, attending to an unscheduled visitor, holding an unvaccinated puppy with a view to adoption.”

In effect, it had nothing to do with Martselos being a Dene woman “or any other reason having to do with ‘her’ personally.”

“There were no public hours on the day that Ms. Martselos attended at the shelter, and she
attended without an appointment,” the release states. “She should not have been invited in by the staff members on duty that day; she should have been encouraged to come back during public hours, or make an appointment with our foster and adoption specialist.

“We regret that this policy was not followed by our staff.”

SPCA staff members acting outside responsibilities

The release states that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to safety protocols being necessarily expanded, and the demand on both staff and volunteers has increased.

“The stress level among staff, volunteers and board members is high,” states the release.

The release from the NWT SPCA states that staff members who facilitated Martselos’ visit were “acting outside the scope of their employment” and “not following requisite NWT SPCA protocols and procedures.

“Puppies fresh into our shelter require vetting and vaccinations before being exposed to animals in the shelter or to members of the public,” states the release. “Shelter staff are aware of the need to minimize the risk of potential spread of parvo or other deadly diseases. Shelter staff are also not responsible for providing shelter tours, introducing the public to potential adoptable animals, or being involved in the fostering/adoption program at all.”

The SPCA board took full responsibility of the situation and stated that staff involved will be addressed internally.

‘Extreme stress’ at facility

“The NWT SPCA has for some time been campaigning the GNWT to provide significant,
reliable, annual funding to allow us to focus on improving our services to the residents of the NWT, and the animals we care for,” states the release.

“Such funding could allow us to hire a full-time shelter manager or executive director to take over the full-time role currently being undertaken by our overworked and unpaid volunteers.”

Martselos was thanked in the release for “shining a light on the extreme stress” faced by volunteers and she was invited to attend a future board meeting to discuss her experiences or concerns and learn about the operations of the facility.

Martselos was not immediately available for comment.

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9 Comments

  1. And there you have it folks. I just read the initial article in the Weekender. What was described in the newspaper article did not seem very racist to me, however, I was not there. Reading the above confirms my initial suspicions . For the record, I have often encountered what I would consider racist comments from Indigenous people here in Yellowknife. I have no doubt that racism exists, it is just that not every negative encounter is a racist encounter. Since the MLA was at the shelter during non public hours, did she use her position to get in and get a tour?

  2. Forever Amazed….yup, similar thoughts as you.
    I did not appreciate being told by MLA that anyone who offered a different viewpoint/perspective to hers was “making excuses”. Am I expected to be scared of her positional power and feel intimidated to agree with her?

  3. It is concerning that when some non-white persons do not get what they want, they automatically feel that it is systemic racism against them, even though racism was NOT a factor.

    Did this MLA identify herself as an MLA in an attempt to get special privilege not available to the general public?

  4. I don’t understand. Why was she there after public hours? The rules need to be applied the same way to everyone regardless of title, race or gender. After hours means after hours. It seems that the staff does have to apply the same rules to everyone equally but in this case, the rule was, we are closed.

  5. She went there. She was welcomed. She was shown around. Apparently the volunteers she encountered in error gave her false information (or did they?). Something happened that was CLEARLY not Ms. Martselos’ fault. Several people recounted “weird” and unpleasant experiences with the YKSPCA. Stop jumping on this MLA who is obviously the innocent victim of SOME kind of problem at that shelter. Ms. Martselos is a lovely person who is often treated very badly. I am glad the SPCA staff were so nice to her; too bad the manager wasn’t.

  6. To Marie:
    Every story as two sides. Initially we were given one, with the quick response fro the Board, now we have two. Credits to the Board for acting on this so swiftly.
    Not every negative encounter with a fellow human being is a racist encounter.

  7. My point is that Ms. Martselos obviously has a legitimate grievance of some description – supported by several other people telling similar stories. Leave it at that. To do otherwise is to engage in bullying. Ms. Martselos has been bullied enough. Leave her alone; she is raising an important issue, which it is her job to do. These personal attacks of her are unwarranted. Period. Too bad what sounded like it started as a very happy encounter turned sour so quickly and so needlessly.

  8. Marie,

    It is clear to me that it is not as “obvious” as you purport, and that her experience is not an automatic trigger for a “legitimate grievance of some description”.

    And, let us be so very careful with your ‘engaging in bulling’ assertion. This MLA has positional authority/power, and tells me that if I offer a perspective that does not align with hers that I am “making excuses”. Seems to me that the feedback she is receiving may indeed be both warranted and appropriate.
    Is the purpose of your ‘period’ remark in your comment aimed to suppress and ‘cut off” anyone from expressing a perspective not aligned with yours?
    Overall, shame on her. I am not intimated by her insistence that her frame of reference must be accepted by all others.

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