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City of Yellowknife thanks volunteers for service, tells some to leave and no more free meals

Yellowknife City Hall on Aug. 3, 2021. The city issued a letter Saturday to volunteers who remained in Yellowknife to help fire protection, that they were no longer needed and should leave.  (Liny Lamberink/CBC - image credit)
Yellowknife City Hall on Aug. 3, 2021. The city issued a letter Saturday to volunteers who remained in Yellowknife to help fire protection, that they were no longer needed and should leave. (Liny Lamberink/CBC - image credit)

The City of Yellowknife is telling around 20 volunteers who helped contractors establish protective lines around the city to leave.

The city issued a letter to the volunteers on Aug. 26 and was signed by Sheila Bassi-Kellett, the city manager.

"The city will be scaling back support and will no longer be providing meals or other supports to you as a volunteer," the letter reads.

"This change will let us make the most of our limited resources to continue with the first responder effort."

It said now that the fire protection work has been completed and the "situation has stabilized," the city determined it needs less volunteers.

Bassi-Kellett told CBC News that the city was thankful to the volunteers, adding it's still under an evacuation order.

"We've had to plan for the worst case scenario as well, and looking at things like our capacity to shelter in place," she said.

"We all saw what happened in Hay River on Friday night and that was so challenging for everybody and if we're in that position here, we want to know what the numbers are."

Bassi-Kellet said they want to have the smallest number of people on the ground. She said there are likely around 100 volunteers left and the letter went out to around 15 to 20 of them who hadn't been assigned work with contractors.

She said the letter was not issued to essential workers, including those keeping the grocery store operating.

Cat McGurk, a Yellowknife city councillor and carpenter, has been organizing volunteers to protect the city.

"I don't think people are very happy, I'm not very happy with the letter to be frank," McGurk said.

She said due to the state of emergency, city council was not informed of the decision.

"That's the function of the state of emergency to make it easier for administration to function effectively or swiftly and without the burden of oversight," she said.

Bassi-Kellett said the decision to send the letter wasn't in the "purview of council at this time."

Although she is unhappy with the letter, McGurk said she understands the administration is trying its best in a situation that is constantly changing.

McGurk added she is proud of the work completed by the volunteers and essential workers.

Stephanie Vaillancourt was one of those volunteers who received the letter. She had been helping contractors by cutting down trees to create a fuel free line around the city.

"I was a bit surprised," Vaillancourt said, noting she is still processing the news and unsure whether she will leave the city.

She said she recognized that work might be winding down, but was still sad that she will no longer be working with her crew.

"I think everybody agrees that it was handled poorly and it could have been a little bit more gentle towards us," she said.