Wrong place, wrong time: N.W.T. premier responds to constituency meeting confrontation

Northwest Territories premier Bob McLeod says Union of Northern Workers protesters who crashed a constituency meeting in Yellowknife were taking actions that were "not part of a lawful picket."

Confrontation came at Tuesday evening meeting as gov't workers strike set for Monday

A group of union protesters crashed Premier Bob McLeod's constituency meeting Tuesday night. The premier, pictured far right, has responded to the incident, saying that the events were 'unfortunate, and we hope that they will not be repeated.' (John Last/CBC)

Northwest Territories premier Bob McLeod says Union of Northern Workers protesters who crashed a constituency meeting in Yellowknife were taking actions that were "not part of a lawful picket."

In a statement released Wednesday evening, McLeod said he was "disappointed by the events that took place" at the meeting held at Stanton Suites.

"[The meeting was] not meant to be a forum to carry on negotiations that will be taking place in another forum," McLeod's statement read.

On Tuesday, McLeod's scheduled Yellowknife South constituency meeting was filled with dozens of Union of Northern Workers (UNW) representatives who demanded to know why the premier is encouraging employees to cross the picket line, should a strike happen.

The representatives were referring to a memo sent to government employees on Tuesday, which acknowledged that some unionized employees may want to work through the strike.

The union has served notice that it will strike on Monday, February 11, should planned mediation on Friday and Saturday not result in a new collective bargaining agreement.

The confrontation at the constituency meeting quickly turned hostile. The crowd shouted at the premier, who left the meeting with the protesters following. The exchange between the premier and protesters was captured in part by CBC North.

Once outside, McLeod got into his vehicle and had his path blocked by UNW members, in an altercation first reported by Northern News Services. One of the protesters has alleged that McLeod struck him with his vehicle, and called the RCMP to report the incident.

In his statement, McLeod said that the "conduct in the parking lot outside my constituency meeting last night was not part of a lawful picket.

"We expect the union leadership will ensure their members understand their rights and their responsibilities," the statement read. "The events of last night were unfortunate, and we hope that they will not be repeated."

In the statement, McLeod said that he did not see a need to directly intervene in the bargaining process since mediation is still scheduled to take place this weekend.

He also called for respect to be shown to elected officials, union members, and union officials, despite the heightened tension that may come with strike action.

"I fully respect the rights of employees to bargain collectively and our government remains committed to coming to a fair agreement with the Union of Northern Workers that is also fiscally responsible, while putting an end to the current uncertainty its members are experiencing," the statement read.