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Complaint over washroom access
Residents concerned about the lack of available public facilities downtown

Miranda Scotland
Northern News Services
Published Friday, May 3, 2013

The lack of public washrooms downtown is disgraceful and the matter is being made worse with yet another retailer limiting access to its facilities, according to Yellowknifer Norman Howe.

NNSL photo/graphic

Yellowknifer Norman Howe is concerned about the lack of public washrooms downtown. The situation is made worse, he said, now that Centre Square Mall, upper level, appears to be limiting access to its facilities. - Miranda Scotland/NNSL photo

Currently, the upper level of Centre Square Mall allows the public to access its bathrooms by way of the security guards. However, Howe said, he was told that policy is about to change.

"(The security guard) says to me 'After next week there will be no more keys for the upstairs bathrooms,'" he recounted. "There are

no public washrooms downtown now. None."

Last week, Yellowknifer was allowed into the upper level bathroom by one of the security guards. Yet, he warned he could lose his job and indicated that in the near future he would no longer be able to let anyone in. A security guard in the lower level of the mall - which is under different management - allowed Yellowknifer into the washroom there.

Scott Smicer, general manager of the Yellowknife Inn and the upper mall, insisted the bathrooms would remain open to customers of the mall. The security guards, he said, will continue to have keys and merchants can call them on behalf of a visitor. Shoppers can also go to the guards directly to be let in.

Smicer said he has tightened access to the bathrooms because of vandalism and inappropriate behaviour. Customers deserve a clean washroom, he added.

Still, Howe believes it isn't right and wants the mall's management to reconsider. Instead of shutting down access, he said, why not monitor them better?

"It says right on the door these are monitored. Well monitoring to me means go in and check around," Howe said. "You let a few people in and you're kind of worried about maybe the guy is in there drinking or trying to get laid or something, you just go in and look."

Meanwhile, over at YK Centre the solution has been to install coin-operated locks on the bathroom doors.

"It's certainly decreased vandalism and damage in the washrooms for us and it's also given us an avenue to donate to local, worthy charities," said Hughie Graham, general manager of YK Centre.

In the first four months of operations the centre collected about $1,000 and donated it to the SideDoor Youth Centre. Management has also donated funds to the YWCA and the downtown day shelter.

But the bathroom issue shouldn't be left in the hands of retailers, said former city councillor David Wind. The city needs to come to grips with the problem, he said, and find a way to provide additional facilities. It's a public health concern, Wind added.

"When you have to go, you have to go."

In 2009, Wind pushed for the city to add public washrooms to the utility building about to be built at the Somba K'e Civic Plaza. Today the facility does house toilets but they are only open to residents during city-run events or if a group rents them.

Nonetheless, residents can use the washrooms at city hall, the Yellowknife Public Library and the day shelter, which was opened for the purpose of providing Yellowknife's homeless with a place to answer the call of nature.

"We've been focusing what limited resources we have on enhancing our support for that facility. But at the moment there aren't any other plans for more public washrooms in the downtown core," said Mayor Mark Heyck, adding there aren't enough resources to fund additional washrooms and no place to put them. Also, he isn't sure what types of facilities could work in Yellowknife's cold winter climate.

"It's our hope that places like malls in Yellowknife would provide public washrooms."

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