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Ottawa identifies bogus evacuee claims from Lake St. Martin

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OTTAWA — More than 10 per cent of people receiving emergency assistance due to flooding at Lake St. Martin First Nation were not evacuees from the reserve, the federal government acknowledged Friday.

Sid Dutchak, the government’s special representative overseeing flooding issues on Manitoba First Nations, told the Free Press after a review, Aboriginal Affairs identified 170 people who were receiving evacuation benefits who weren’t eligible for them.

"These things will be rectified," said Dutchak.

He said it will be difficult to sort out who was on the list because there was confusion about who was eligible and who was taking advantage of the situation.

He said the focus is to sort out how much money the ineligible people were given for hotel rooms and daily living allowances, and then to try and get it back.

AANDC spokespeople have said the government will recoup any money spent on ineligible evacuees from the First Nation.

As of February, Ottawa had spent $12 million on emergency assistance for Lake St. Martin evacuees since May 2011. It has spent $40 million total for evacuees from at least half a dozen Manitoba First Nations.

Lake St. Martin chief Adrian Sinclair is adamant he and the band council are not to blame for the problem. The band delivered a list of names to the government last spring when the floods first forced the reserve to be evacuated. There were 797 people on that list. By February the number of evacuees receiving help had grown to 1,157. In March it was up to 1,268.

Sinclair and the band’s consultant, Rarihokwats, have said the Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters was responsible for the list. MANFF is contracted by Ottawa to provide emergency services for reserves, and was the organization registering evacuees and paying for hotel rooms and allowances for food and other daily necessities.

Most of the homes in Lake St. Martin are uninhabitable due to repeated years of flooding.

Some have moved to temporary homes set up by the province near Gypsumville. Others are waiting for negotiations on where to set up a new reserve and are living in hotels or with friends and family.

AANDC began questioning why evacuee lists from many First Nations were still going up in December, when most people should have started to return home. But it wasn’t until the Free Press began asking questions about the still growing lists in March that AANDC launched an investigation.

It is now starting to evaluate the evacuee lists from other reserves including Dauphin River, Pinaymootang, Ebb and Flow, and Little Saskatchewan. Letters were sent to chiefs of those communities asking for assistance Friday.

Dutchak said thus far those communities are cooperating and he doesn’t believe there will be many ineligible people.

The Lake St. Martin review including sitting with Sinclair and going through the list name by name.

Dutchak said clearly changes must be implemented for the future.

"We will have to add checks and balances," he said.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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