On the morning of June 20, residents of Theodore awoke to find three vehicles vandalized. The three cars each had red paint on the side, with “RAT” written in large letters on the doors.
According to the cars’ owners, the vandalism wasn’t a surprise. They say that this is the latest escalation in a pattern of stalking and harassment they have been experiencing over the past two years.
Three of the victims work for the village of Theodore, Jeff MacKay, Patricia Pidlesny and Dwayne Tobin. McKay and Tobin work on maintenance in the town and Pidlesny, who is married to McKay, works in the village office. Verna Famulak does not work for the village, but believes that she was targeted over her public support for the village employees. In particular, she distributed a three page rebuttal to a letter from Bruce Fredrickson that was printed in an April 2020 issue of the Theodore Free Press.
“I’ve been bullied and harassed in the workplace, I know what it feels like, and I swore that if I ever came across that with someone I would do my utmost to help them,” Famulak said.
The victims say that they have been dealing with a pattern of harassment since moving to Theodore and starting work for the town, and it has been consistent for the past three years.
“The boys are watched at work all the time, people are taking pictures of them,” said Pidlesny.
“They follow us, what we’re doing, how long we’re taking breaks for,” adds Tobin. He adds that their breaks are in the town office, and often involve administrative duties. He said there have been times where people have burst into the office to accuse them of not doing work when they are handling tasks that need to be done within the office.
“I had a lady pull up behind me when I was on the grader plowing snow, when I stopped and opened the door - I had no other option but to stop and open the door - but when I stopped and opened the door she screamed at me and told me I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t know how to plow snow, I had filled her driveway with snow, none of that was true.”
Mayor Kevin Urbanowski said that this is a problem that the village knows about, and that he understands it extends beyond the people who are working for the village right now.
“There are a number of ratepayers in the village, they have a habit of aggravating and harassing, this has been going on for years apparently. Whatever village employee is hired by the town, there has been some sort of harassment at some level. There are a few people in town who aren’t very nice.”
The vandalism is something that McKay doesn’t understand, because he said they’re just trying to do their jobs in the village to the best of their abilities.
“It’s crazy, to wake up to that and say, all I’m trying to do is do my job. Collectively, we’re improving the community, making a better community. Sure, I’m sure some people don’t like it, because change is a thing that some people can’t deal with here… Well, people have different strategies and techniques to do things,” said McKay.
They share McKay’s frustration over being targeted over doing their job. Tobin said that when they were hired, the village was in financial trouble, and they didn’t know if they would be able to pay for all of the expenses that first month. He said that the staff at the village has worked hard to deal with tax arrears, dog licenses and water bills to get the town on solid financial footing again.
Tobin said that he also has had to see a doctor due to mental health issues stemming from the harassment, and took up smoking again after having quit for two years.
“It’s had a huge effect on me, my family and my wife. Everything over a job… It’s like they’re trying to run you out of town.”
Tobin said that the problems began early in their employment, and he believes they are considered ‘outsiders’ by the village.
“When I first got this job three years ago, I’m from Newfoundland. Nobody had met me yet, but the comments I heard around town were ‘he’s probably an alcoholic because he’s from Newfoundland.’ They [Pidlesny and McKay] attended meetings and stuff when they first came to town, because they wanted to be a part of the community as well, and they were met with comments such as ‘well that’s that Ontario attitude, it doesn’t work here in Saskatchewan.’”
McKay also handles the ice surface at the arena, and said that he has worked hard to learn how to properly handle the ice-making task in the arena. He said that while he was new to the job, he took multiple classes to ensure that he was able to handle it, and kept in touch with his instructors the entire time.
“When you have 30 ‘experts’ coming in and trying to assist you, with 30 different opinions… and then have the instructor of your course say ‘I know Theodore very well, and I’ll give you some really good advice, don’t listen to the people that are there who have done the ice.’”
Last hockey season, in spite of an otherwise good year for ice, there was a mechanical failure that led to a game having to be called in the third period. McKay said that this was greeted with the harassment getting more severe, especially on social media.
“I have never in my life heard people comment like this and lash out.”
Famulak is confused as to how the ice has garnered so much abuse because, as far as she can tell, beyond a mechanical failure McKay couldn’t control, the ice has been great.
“I’ve been in the arena, I’ve seen the ice, it’s beautiful. I’ve had people I know in Yorkton say wow, Theodore ice, top notch.”
They want the mayor and council to do more to curb harassment in the village. Urbanowski said that for their part, they have implemented an anti-bullying bylaw, which can see people found guilty of bullying in the Village of Theodore to be fined, to a maximum of $1,000 or 50 hours of community service. They are also working harder on bylaw enforcement in Theodore, Urbanowski explained, and have hired Commissionaires to conduct bylaw enforcement in the village, which is a first.
This vandalism came the night after council brought in a bylaw enforcement officer to tour the town and enforce bylaws. Security cameras were tampered with as well before the incident, and Tobin notes that it is clear that it’s not a random attack, because they don’t live near each other and also due to the language used on the vehicles.
“I got up Saturday morning, went out to my truck to find my truck spray painted like that all up the side. I called Jeff, he went out to find his car like that.”
Tobin wants to have the town cover his insurance and the installation of cameras in wake of the incident, because he is afraid for his family since his truck was vandalized at home. He said he hasn’t heard anything about what will happen next.
“I shouldn’t have to pay out of my pocket a deductible on my insurance and then an increase in my insurance every year because of something that, as far as I’m concerned, the town council’s decisions have caused.”
Urbanowski said that the village council is 100 per cent behind the victims of the attack.
“We feel horrible that it has happened to them. It could have happened to anybody. It’s unfortunate that it happened in Theodore, let alone them, and we’re behind them 100 per cent supporting them and we will do anything we can to support them.”
All three are afraid, they said. Famulak said that each morning she walks around the property to ensure nobody is trying to poison her dogs, and Tobin keeps an axe handle by his door.
In spite of the harassment, they say their commitment to the village of Theodore has not abated, and they want to work to improve the town and make it a place where people can be proud to call home. They believe it’s a town with a lot of potential and a lot of services that could really help the community blossom, including still having a school and a bank, which other small towns don’t have. They don’t want to move, and wish that the people attacking them would see that they’re there to help the community.
“We’re all teaming up and we are saying we have to fix this. Let’s keep the school here because there was a war that went on for it. We have a bank that’s being threatened. Let’s try and keep them. We have new families moving in. They called this a retirement community when we moved here… no, I’m not retiring. It was our getaway, this was our mini paradise that we moved to,” said McKay.
“Theodore is a beautiful village, it’s the perfect location and the majority of the people here are awesome.”
“The sad part is, if we weren’t working for the village, if we were staying in our own little home… no one would ever know who we were, no one would ever bother us, and we would think we were living in this beautiful, spectacular town,” added Tobin.
The vandalism is still under investigation by the RCMP. If you have information related to this advisory please call 310-RCMP for immediate response, or you can call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).