Crying child at centre of dispute between Yukonstruct and café: court filing

The Yukonstruct makerspace in Whitehorse has filed a petition to Yukon Supreme Court to remove The Poor Creature café from its Whitehorse headquarters.

Whitehorse non-profit files petition to Yukon Supreme Court to force café out

The Poor Creature café has been open this week at Yukonstruct's headquarters in Whitehorse, but the non-profit has filed a petition to Yukon Supreme Court saying the café's lease is expired. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

A dispute between the Yukonstruct makerspace and the café in its Whitehorse headquarters is now before the Supreme Court of Yukon.

Documents filed Thursday by Yukonstruct describe the court action as the culmination of a year-long saga involving arguments over noise, the café owner's crying child, and Yukonstruct members reportedly threatening to cancel their memberships at the non-profit. 

Yukonstruct's petition to the court is aimed at forcing The Poor Creature café to vacate its building. The non-profit, whose mission is to foster entrepreneurship, argues that the café's lease expired last week and the business has simply refused to leave.

The café has been open all week.

Last month, The Poor Creature owner Brioni Connolly said the decision about her lease seemed to come out of nowhere, and that it left her in the lurch.

Last month, café owner Brioni Connolly said she was surprised to receive notice that her lease would not be renewed. (Kiyoshi Maguire/CBC)

Yukonstruct's court filing suggests Connolly should not have been surprised. It alleges she didn't give proper notice of intent to renew the lease, as required by her tenancy agreement. 

The petition also says Yukonstruct wants to reconfigure the café into a common workspace for its other tenants — so The Poor Creature has got to go.

It's asking for the court to issue a writ of possession to Yukonstruct, which would allow the non-profit to enforce an eviction.

Connolly's lawyer Vincent Larochelle says Connolly simply wants more time to find a new location, and Yukonstruct is being inflexible. 

"She's asking for six months, but not a hard deadline of six months ... she's already looking and if she finds something earlier, she's gonna move out," Larochelle said. 

He also says Connolly believes the lease has been renewed, and she's still paying rent.

'Not sustainable or healthy'

Yukonstruct's board of directors and executive director Lana Selbee sent a letter to the organization's members on Thursday, explaining the decision to not renew The Poor Creature's lease.

"We did our best to work with our tenant to come to a mutually acceptable agreement, but despite our best intentions, we were unable to do so," it reads. "This relationship was not sustainable or healthy."

The café opened a year ago in Yukonstruct's space at Northlight Innovation. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

In a sworn affidavit, Selbee describes that relationship in detail.

It says the newly-opened makerspace worked hard last year to accommodate and support Connolly's fledgling business, and help her get it off the ground by spending about $50,000 on improvements to the space, to "suit Connolly's needs." 

In Selbee's telling, the problems began on The Poor Creature's first day open last December. She says Connolly and her partner Traolach Ó Murchú brought their young child to the café, and noise was immediately an issue.

"Their child seemed unsettled and upset and cried and screamed from approximately 7 a.m. until noon," the affidavit reads.

Selbee said some Yukonstruct members complained, saying they had trouble working. Those complaints would continue in the coming months, but Connolly and Ó Murchú were unresponsive, according to Selbee.

There were more periods of crying, "usually measured in hours," the affidavit reads.

"While I could hear their child crying and screaming, I felt very uncomfortable and was not sure what to do, as I had clearly told Connolly it was an issue," it says. 

In documents submitted to court, Yukonstruct executive director Lana Selbee describes a difficult relationship with the café, that became increasingly tense in recent months. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Months of emails would follow between Selbee, Connolly, Ó Murchú and other Yukonstruct staff and board members about the noise issue, but Selbee says those discussions went nowhere. She said members continued to complain, and some threatened to cancel their memberships if the "constant crying and screaming" continued.

According to Selbee, Connolly and Ó Murchú chose to portray themselves as victims.

"They have responded by suggesting that the complaints amount to harassment and that the complainants and Yukonstruct are discriminating against women entrepreneurs and children," her affidavit reads.

Lawyer Larochelle says Connolly is preparing to file a response to Yukonstruct's petition.

"My clients feel that the messaging of Yukonstruct and their narrative is disingenuous. They are looking forward to putting their version of the facts out in the open," said Larochelle.

"Both Brioni and Traolach have their story to tell, and it's certainly a different one than the one that we've been hearing from Yukonstruct."