Man in Charge Admits He Doesn’t Know
September 21, 2011 David Soknacki, the chair of the Crown corporation that abruptly changed the locks on the Downsview, Ont.-based Canadian Air and Space Museum (CASM) on September 20, 2011, has admitted he doesn’t know if locking out CASM staff was actually necessary.
I’m not a lawyer, nor am I aware of the exact format of the letter [eviction notice] that was sent to the CASM and six other tenants, Soknacki told Canadian Skies magazine. He heads Parc Downsview Park, the federal Crown corporation that is converting the former airbase into an urban park’. Moreover, Soknacki admitted that he never asked staff or the lawyers they hired whether such a heavy-handed approach had to be taken.
So did David Soknacki expect the media firestorm that erupted when CASM staffers found themselves locked out? Absolutely! We expected that the tenant would call friends in the media, he told Canadian Skies.
For his part, CASM CEO Robert Cohen was floored by the eviction notice; especially because the museum had been catching up on its back rent. We went to present them with a cheque on the 12th of September which brought us current for all of 2010, Cohen said. Two days later, when CASM staff members were preparing to pay another $15,500 in back rent, Parc Downsview Park sent back the $25,000 cheque and told us we were in breach of our lease.
However, Parc Downsview Park didn’t evict the CASM or six other tenants in the historic 1929 de Havilland hangar for non-payment of rent. Instead, the Crown corporation which must cover all of the site expenses through its own revenues saw a chance to raise $20 million to bring the building up to modern standards.
We found an operator who proposed a four-rink ice complex there, and who would be willing to invest the $20 million to preserve the hangar heritage, Soknacki explained. In order to start that process, we sent notice to our tenants that they needed to vacate the space within six months.
Here the irony: The fact that the CASM was behind in its rent was actually not an issue. Even if they had been fully paid up, Parc Downsview Park would have evicted them anyway.
Meanwhile, despite Soknacki assertions to the contrary, Cohen says that the hangar current occupants were never warned about any impending eviction. After noting how often Parc Downsview Park officials turned up at CASM public events and praised the museum efforts, Cohen expressed bitterness at the Crown corporation decision to evict the CASM for a richer tenant. We were just placeholders, he declared. They used us.
As of September 21, the CASM was trying to figure out its next move. For its part, Parc Downsview Park has offered to store the Museum artefacts on a temporary basis, and says the fact that the locks have been changed doesn’t mean CASM staff won’t be allowed into their former home at least for now.
I will guess that our manager would allow museum members and donors to come in and go out, Soknacki added. Asked to confirm that he was only guessing and didn’t know if this was true, he replied. That correct.