Fort Simpson, N.W.T.’s Open Doors Society says it faces legal action from the Dehcho Divisional Education Council over a set of shipping containers. The DDEC denies any such action is being taken. 

 The skirmish started over a collection of sea cans used by the society to store equipment and supplies for recreational event programming. 

The four sea cans are stored on land set aside by the territorial government for Fort Simpson’s school, although the parcel is also part of the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation’s land claim. Chief Kele Antoine did not return requests for comment on the issue. 

How did the school and the society – which runs a playgroup, preschool and family resource centre – get to this point? 

“The DDEC has legal counsel and their legal counsel has sent letters stating the removal of the sea cans to be done by July 5, 2023,” said Marie Forman, executive director of the Open Doors Society. 

According to Forman, the society has been told that failure to do so would result in the DDEC taking steps to force removal of the sea cans – including, but not limited to, the commencement of action for trespass with the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories and a claim for damages and legal costs.

But a DDEC representative had a very different picture of what’s going on.

“It is not true that the DDEC is taking legal action against the ODS,” said Philippe Brûlot, DDEC superintendent, using an initialism for the society. “There was never any mention of that in any correspondence.” 

The DDEC did, though, acknowledge it had contacted the society about the shipping containers.

“The DDEC is concerned about the safety risk posed by the sea cans on school property, because students are climbing on top and an accident could happen,” said Brûlot. 

“The DDEC is attempting to reach a resolution with the ODS regarding the placement of the sea cans.”

Asked to provide a copy of the letter in question, to clarify the difference in interpretation of its contents, both parties declined. 

If the land belongs to the DDEC, it would have the final say over objects stored on the property, but Forman says it isn’t that simple. 

“We have confirmed permission to have the sea cans in this location, from the Village of Fort Simpson and from the facilities manager with the GNWT Department of Infrastructure, via email confirmation on June 14, 2022,” she said. 

However, a territorial government representative said in retrospect, it might not have been the department’s place to weigh in. 

“In June of last year, an employee at the Department of Infrastructure sent an email to the Village of Fort Simpson authorizing the placement of the container at the LKFN elementary school,” said a department spokesperson. 

“However, the village has since been advised by the Department of Infrastructure that this email was sent in error; the Department of Infrastructure provides maintenance for the school but does not own the grounds, and does not have authority over what can or cannot be placed there.”

The Open Doors Society is asking that the school board extend its removal deadline, to allow the society to find an alternative to the sea cans, which it says play a critical role in some programs and events. Equipment stored in the containers is also used for the organization’s daily preschool and after-school program, as well as a community toy lending library. 

Forman said removing the shipping containers will require the cancellation of programming for the remainder of the school year.

“Our current programming spaces will have to become storage space for all the equipment in the sea cans, as they will need to be emptied for transportation,” she said. 

Wednesday meeting

The sea cans have stood on their current site for roughly 10 years. 

Forman argues that the timing of the demand to remove them doesn’t make sense. 

“We do carry an insurance policy that covers the sea cans and liability coverage,” said Forman. “We have never had a safety concern brought to our attention about the sea cans from any community members, nor has the RCMP made us aware of any. To this date, there has never been an injury.”

Asked if a particular incident had brought the shipping containers to his attention, Brûlot said the containers had been an ongoing worry since he took his post five years ago. 

“Students are climbing on top, and you can easily understand that falling from that height could cause serious injuries,” said Brûlot. “Should we wait until something happens to clarify these matters?”

Brûlot expressed concern that his school and staff could be viewed as negligent in the event of an accident. 

“We have a responsibility to deal with these matters seriously to ensure that our students are safe, and that we are covered should something happen,” he said.

“Failure to take these matters seriously would be irresponsible.”

The school board, the Open Doors Society and representatives from the Village of Fort Simpson are expected to meet on Wednesday this week in an attempt to resolve the issue. 

By Caitrin Pilkington, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 06, 2023 at 06:00

This item reprinted with permission from   Cabin Radio   Yellowknife, NorthWest Territories
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