Lawyers ‘shocked’ by firing of John Howard Society director

Lydia Bardak, left, Mayor Mark Heyck, right. (2016)
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There’s some concern Yellowknife’s John Howard Society won’t be able to fulfill its mandate after its long-time executive director and community justice coordinator was unexpectedly fired last week.

Lydia Bardak found out she was being let go on Nov. 14 when two board members with the society presented her with her termination notice.

“The John Howard Society wanted to move in a new direction and I wasn’t part of that so my position was terminated,” she told Moose FM.

Bardak says she wasn’t told why she was fired, but did offer some ideas of her own.

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“I’m much more of a people person than a paperwork person and it could be that I’m frequently late submitting reports,” she said.

Bardak admits her tardiness filing paperwork may have been a reason why the John Howard Society lost its status as a charitable organization a couple years ago.

But she says she’s improved significantly in the past year or so, submitting financial reports and other necessary documents to funders on time.

Brad Carlson, the chair of Yellowknife’s John Howard Society’s board, declined an interview request when asked about Bardak’s termination.

What happens now?

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Yellowknife’s John Howard Society provides rehabilitative and reintegrative services to people who have come into contact with the criminal justice system.

But just as importantly, it’s responsible for running the city’s Community Justice Committee on behalf of the territory’s justice department.

With Bardak now out of the picture, the future of the society is uncertain.

“I think it would be tragic for an individual to end up with a conviction and criminal record for the more minor things,” she said, citing shoplifting and simple possession of marijuana as examples.

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The committee also helps people navigate their way through the territory’s fine option program, which provides offenders with alternatives in the event that a fine can’t be paid.

If people don’t know that option is available to them, she’s concerned minor offenders will fall through the cracks of the legal system.

“Now if they’re unable to pay a fine or access the fine option program, they could potentially face jail sentences for non-payment,” she said.

Decision to fire Bardak ‘shocking’

Members of Yellowknife’s legal community have also weighed in on Bardak’s termination.

“I am saddened by this news and believe this is a tremendous loss for the community and especially those persons Ms. Bardak has been helping,” said local lawyer Jay Bran.

“I see her in the courts, and in the community, and she is always interacting with the members of the community in need of assistance.

“Her work and passion to help those that need it the most will be sorely missed. She has been a fantastic advocate for those in need in all the years I have known her.”

Yellowknife lawyer Peter Harte.
Yellowknife lawyer Peter Harte.

Peter Harte, another local lawyer, said Bardak would often help clients get to court on time and remind them of their release conditions.

He even credited her for saving lives and helping those struggling with substance abuse.

“She is involved in people’s lives when they’re connected to the court to a huge extent and at times I’ve credited her in the past for keeping people alive,” he said.

“It’s not just a question of getting them to court, I mean that quite literally. She’s saved people’s lives.”

Harte says he’d be ‘shocked’ if Yellowknife’s John Howard Society could find someone as qualified as Bardak to take over for her.

“What is shocking to me about the decision to let Lydia go is the extent to which she assists sometimes five days a week in court,” he said.

“It can’t be overstressed that she provides a unique resource to people who are desperately in need of that kind of support.

“I have no clue how the John Howard Society expects to fulfill its mandate without somebody like Lydia in court just about every day of the week.”

For its part, the territory’s justice department says it’s not aware of any disruptions in service and that it’s looking forward to continued collaboration between the John Howard Society and the GNWT.

What’s next for Bardak?

Bardak admits she’s still processing last week’s firing, but that hasn’t stopped her from thinking about what comes next.

She says she still has a passion for community justice, and may even advance her education in the area of victim offender mediation.

“I’ll still be here,” she said when asked what her future might hold. “I’ll still be walking the streets of Yellowknife, just not able to help people in the way I was previously.”

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