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Hay River man set to spend Christmas on hunger strike outside Syncrude

Yellowknife, NWT – A Hay River man is heading into the third week of a protest outside Syncrude, near Fort McMurray.

Since Monday, December 8, Mike Sharpe says he has been on hunger strike outside the crude oil producer (pictured, above) in protest at perceived lapses in safety.

The former truck driver at Syncrude’s Aurora mine says the company ignored his complaint that a seat belt in a truck had been partially cut off, sending the truck back into service without addressing the issue.

Sharpe left the company over the way that incident was handled and now says Syncrude is seeking $41,000 from him as a result.

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If he is forced to surrender that money, the 41-year-old says it will mean the end of his new business – the Cash and Carry bus, which takes cut-price groceries to northern communities.

Read more: Maclean’s profiles Mike Sharpe’s Cash and Carry bus, ‘the ultimate food truck’

“I’m waiting on somebody to actually come out, listen to me, take my complaint seriously and take it from there,” Sharpe told Moose FM by phone from his protest site on Friday.

“If they manage to do what they want to do, which is collect $41,000 from me for my retention because I quit over this, it’s going to effectively bankrupt me – and I won’t have the ability to run Cash and Carry with that $41,000 hanging over me. It won’t happen.

“I have to do this in order to maintain Cash and Carry.

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“They wouldn’t give me a date as to when they want to file it. I hope that they do file it, so I can protest it in court. As of yet, they’re just hanging on to it. I think they’re waiting to see what happens.”

Will Gibson, who represents Syncrude, told Moose FM: “We don’t comment on personnel issues but we do respect Mr Sharpe’s democratic right to peacefully protest on public property outside of our facilities.

“Safety is our number one corporate priority. We want everyone that comes to our plant, whether they are an employee, contractor or visitor, to leave the plant safe.”

Sharpe countered: “They claim that accountability is number one and safety is top of the list but, from my standpoint and what happened to me, that’s clearly not the case.

“I was hoping this wouldn’t go past day one. I was hoping for the company to acknowledge what has happened and deal with it accordingly.

“Everybody has that story about the boss that intimidated them or made them do something that was unsafe, or made them drop a complaint. This happens to be the one guy that’s standing up against it.”

Sharpe says he is prepared to keep his hunger strike going over Christmas if nobody from the company comes out to meet him. He believes he is capable of maintaining the strike for up to 40 days, which would take him well into January.

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“If that’s what it takes, yes. It’s not an issue,” he said.

“My wife is here with me and my sister is giving me a lot of support. I’m feeling confident.”

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