'They punch you': Homeless people say security at Yellowknife mall abusive

1 / 4

'They punch you': Homeless people say security at Yellowknife mall abusive

'They punch you': Homeless people say security at Yellowknife mall abusive

Homeless people in Yellowknife say they're being roughed up by security guards at the city's biggest mall after a security company shake up.

Last week the upper level of Centre Square Mall replaced its security company. It's now run by North Star Security and Investigations, which already provided security to the lower level of the mall.

"They push you out. They punch you," said Francis Washie, who claims security has become physically abusive toward homeless people, like himself.

Washie is not the only one complaining about the change in attitude by security at the mall. Some people say the new company is ready to kick out anybody who appears out of place.

"They loved me for a while, but all of a sudden they turned against me and started kicking me out," said Robert Abel, another homeless person who frequents the mall.

"That's why I sit outside now."

'Somebody's going to fight back'

Even Lydia Bardak, one of Yellowknife's most well known homelessness advocates, says security guards have tried to boot her from the mall.

"I've been asked to leave the mall on two separate occasions and talked to the staff who were in the process of calling the RCMP and evicting me," she said.

"Approaching somebody who's simply standing and talking, saying 'You need to move along or I'm calling the RCMP' just like that, there was no in between."

Bardak now fears the tension will come to blows.

"I just think that one day somebody's going to fight back because they're going to resist this kind of aggression," she said.

"Using a strong heavy handed approach with people who are not very stable mentally, under the influence of something, and probably carrying a hidden weapon themselves, I think that the security personnel are putting themselves at great risk."

Mall called a 'war zone'

In February, the owners of the upper level of the mall and the adjoining Quality Inn and Suites, Holloway Lodging Corporation, wrote an open letter to Yellowknifers, saying they were dealing with a "war zone" in the mall.

The owners asked Yellowknifers to join them in their plea to get governments to deal with the city's homelessness crisis.

"​Our general manager has been assaulted. Our security person suffered bruising to the ribs from punches last week. All have been spat on," the letter read.

CBC reached out to Holloway Lodging Corporation and North Star Security about the alleged heavy handed approach by security staff — neither have responded.

The RCMP says it's aware of the situation at the mall, and is speaking with security to remind them where their authority lies.