How a dispute at Yukon Motor Vehicles grew to include police, courts, and a human rights complaint

One man's quest for a new licence plate has left him squared off in a court battle with the Yukon government.

Motor Vehicles turns to police, hires security guard after staff felt threatened by man's behaviour

Yonis Melew outside the Yukon courthouse in Whitehorse. Melew is at the centre of a protracted drama involving the Yukon Government, the RCMP, the courts, the Yukon Human Rights Commission, the Yukon Employees' Union and the NDP. (Alexandra Byers/CBC)

Yonis Melew needed a new licence plate and a change of address at the Motor Vehicles Branch in Whitehorse this summer. Instead, staff called RCMP on him three different times, and now, the department has hired a full-time private security guard.

Melew is at the centre of an unfolding drama at Motor Vehicles stretching back to at least April 2017. The events this summer were the latest escalation, ultimately drawing in not only the Yukon government and at least eight RCMP officers, but also the courts, the territory's Information and Privacy Commissioner, the Yukon Human Rights Commission, the Yukon Employees' Union and the territorial NDP.

Melew says staff are discriminating against him, and have marked him as an "aggressive black man." But according to testimony presented in an unsuccessful peace bond application by Vern Janz, the director of Transport Services, in Yukon Territorial Court earlier this year, Motor Vehicles staff say Melew has frequently acted in aggressive and threatening ways.

The government said it can't comment on the details of Melew's allegations because it's involved in a legal process with the Human Rights Commission, but a spokesperson from the Department of Highways and Public Works did offer a written statement.

"All Yukon government public servants have a right to a safe work environment, and all public servants are expected to be respectful to their colleagues and to the public that they serve," wrote Brittanee Stewart.

The dispute appears to have sprung out of a series of interactions between Melew and Motor Vehicles staff over the last few years. Melew said he previously challenged staff over problems transfering his Alberta driver's licence, and he believes they've held a grudge against him ever since.

Melew allegedly aggressive and threatening

According to court testimony, there were additional issues in April and October of 2017, when Melew's wife was going through the process of getting her driver's licence. Melew said he challenged staff over the content of the written test, saying it was deficient and out of date. He also followed his wife as she was doing her driving test. He maintains it was so he could see what mistakes were made, and what she would need to improve on.

Janz testified that his staff felt threatened by this behaviour, and that Melew was frequently yelling and aggressive. No staff members testified in court.

The Yukon Department of Motor Vehicles, in Whitehorse. (Alexandra Byers/CBC)

The incidents culminated last October, when a staffer refused to conduct Melew's wife's driving test, and Melew and his wife were escorted out of the branch. Janz testified that he followed them out and slammed on their car window, telling Melew to get off the property. Janz then barred Melew from coming to Motor Vehicles without giving 48 hours notice, so they could hire a private security guard for his appointment.

Melew is also a government employee at the Department of Health and Social Services. Janz warned Melew's boss that he wouldn't accept aggressive behaviour, and Melew says the government now requires that he have "fact finding" meetings with human resources any time he visits Motor Vehicles, even for personal reasons.

Melew flagged this to his union, and showed CBC emails that indicate the union is concerned and considering a discrimination grievance.

Both Melew and his wife filed human rights complaints last winter. He says Motor Vehicles declined the first step of informal resolution or mediation, and so those cases are now under investigation.

The commission did not confirm or deny Melew's account citing privacy concerns.

Restricted access to public service

During the peace bond application in April, Judge Michael Cozens questioned Janz on his authority to force Melew to make appointments in advance, thereby restricting his access to a public service.

According to court transcripts, Cozens said he couldn't see anything in the legislation that allowed for that, and asked Janz whether there was any act that actually gave him that jurisdiction.

Janz said no.

Cozens highlighted the fact that Motor Vehicles does have the ability to pursue nuisance charges, which they have declined to do.

With the judge's statements on the record in court, Melew believed Janz could not insist on the 48-hour rule. That's why he went to Motor Vehicles in July and August unannounced, and that's when staff called RCMP.

The first time, one officer responded. Melew says she asked him leave and come back another time. The second time, four officers responded. The third time, two officers.

NDP takes up Melew's case

"It seems to me it's pretty much overkill," said NDP leader Liz Hanson.

The Yukon NDP has advocated for Melew for the last year. They've escorted him to the Motor Vehicles office, testified for him in court, and have sent multiple letters to Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn.

Yukon NDP leader Liz Hanson. The NDP has taken up Melew's cause. (CBC)

"At what point are we misusing the services of the RCMP? And the other question is: Is it necessary and an appropriate response to escalate to having a full time private security guard on staff?" said Hanson.

She wants to know how much the security guard is costing taxpayers, and why the government hasn't focused on mediation and de-escalating the situation sooner.

Hanson says Minister Mostyn has told her he's seeking a legal opinion from the Justice Department on whether it's within the jurisdiction of Motor Vehicles to restrict Melew from accessing the services.

On August 13, Melew met with a constable at Whitehorse RCMP to talk about the situation and share what Judge Cozens said in court. He says that after that meeting, Motor Vehicles staff stopped calling the cops.

But Melew says now he can only be served by a manager or supervisor, and he's bumped to the front of the line, which he says is awkward and uncomfortable.

"I don't want special treatment. Nothing more than just an ordinary Canadian citizen," he said.

"You just get your number, get in line. You're called randomly to any counter there. You get service, out the door. Plain and simple, nothing else."