Dump standoff leads to roadside trash heap

Conflict between the City of Iqaluit and its locked-out workers prevents trash from getting into landfill.



IQALUIT — It was supposed to be simple: Just drive to the dump and drop off the garbage that’s been piling up since Iqaluit’s 80 municipal workers were locked out of work more than a month ago.

But residents who hoped to take advantage of the city’s offer to open the dump Saturday afternoon were instead met by officials asking them to drop their loads on the side of the road.

The plan was to move the garbage into the dump once residents left the area.

On Wednesday, the garbage was still on the roadside.

“The last we heard there were people up there picketing and we’re reviewing all our options this morning,” the city’s chief administrative officer, Rick Butler, said Tuesday.

The union and the city have been embroiled in a battle since April 17, when the city locked out the workers of Local 6, saying it was the only way to ensure that they comply with an agreement to provide essential services during the strike. The union says it has followed the agreement to the letter.

Residents wanted open dump

Garbage collection is not an essential service and the homes and streets of Iqaluit have been clogging up with trash.

After a public meeting at the parish hall, residents pressured city council last week to open the dump and give people a chance to unload their rubbish.

By mid-afternoon Saturday, hundreds of garbage bags were piled up about 300 metres from the Iqaluit landfill site.

Mayor John Matthews was on the dirt road, hands clad in bright orange gloves, helping to pile the heaping mound of bags.

“Well, we tried to get things out to the dump, but the union blocked the dump off, so we can’t have access to it, so we decided we would encourage people to just drop their garbage off along the side of the road,” he said.

“(People) don’t like this. This looks pretty messy, but they want to get the garbage out of their closets and sheds and storage spaces.”

Avoiding confrontation

To avoid confrontation, the city set up a transfer point up the road where a truck could come later to move the garbage to the landfill.

Butler said that when he went to the picket line he was met with hostile attitudes.

“I have the key and I could open the dump, but I was sitting there being abused, an effigy of me ready to be burnt on the fence. There were all sorts of things suggesting this wasn’t a great idea to have a whole bunch of public here as well,” he said.

But union members claimed they simply asked people not to cross their picket line. They said they didn’t attempt to stop Butler or anyone else from opening the gates.

Terry Slaney, a locked-out union member, said piling the garbage on the side of the road was the most ridiculous thing she’d ever seen.

“Anybody that wants to go to the dump, all they have to do is drive over that hill and go right in there,” she said, gesturing behind her.

“Now they’re going to pay somebody hundreds of dollars to move all this stuff to the dump that they could have done earlier today. We weren’t going to stop them from moving it into the dump, they just didn’t attempt it.”

Butler said by having a transfer point away from the dump gates he was respecting the union’s picket line and trying to avoid flaring tempers. But there were still some skirmishes between union members and residents near the transfer point, with raised voices and heated words being volleyed between parties.

Once they were convinced by union members that there was no plan to stop the movement of garbage from the roadside to the dump, city officials decided to open the gates.

Who changed the locks?

At about 3:40 p.m. Butler walked down the dirt road beside a front-end loader, preparing to unlock the gate. After trying all the keys he realized the lock had been changed and wire cutters would be required to open the gate.

In the interim, RCMP officers approached the front-end loader and asked to see the driver’s credentials. Because the loader has air brakes, a special certification is required to drive it. The driver did not have proof of that certification.

A new driver was then brought in.

An hour later the wire cutters arrived on the scene and the gates were pushed open with the loader.

Butler said the union then began to picket in front of the opening.

“We had a front-end loader actually try to enter and it was a ‘no go,’ so we just simply pulled back and said, ‘That’s it. We don’t want to provoke or cause problems.’”

The city’s latest dump isn’t going unnoticed by the federal government. Officials are examining the site to determine its impact.

Mayor John Matthews said Wednesday the garbage will remain where it is for now, as the mounds along the road to the dump are inspected by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

“At this point in time there’s no strong will among contractors in town to help out and cross the picket line,” Matthews said, in order to move the garbage from the roadside to the landfill.

“If DIAND did choose to make an order then I think that would put a different perspective on it because of the rule of law that is involved.

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