A longtime Manitoba school bus driver continues to be employed, despite racking up convictions for smuggling liquor into a dry First Nation that is struggling to cope with substance abuse and violence.
Lisa Patchinose has been arrested five times since 2010 by RCMP in Moose Lake, court documents obtained by the Free Press reveal. She has been convicted on each occasion under the Liquor Control Act and received more than $5,000 in fines.
Some residents of the remote northern community of 1,100 -- located about 70 kilometres southeast of The Pas -- are questioning how she can continue to keep her job of 13 years, working closely with children, despite her continued defiance of provincial laws. They say it's sending the wrong message and school officials have ignored their calls for action.
"Her second job is the worst-kept secret in Moose Lake. People here have complained, but nothing is being done," said one longtime community member, who requested anonymity over fears of a potential backlash. "All the staff and the children at the school know what is going on."
'Her second job is the worst-kept secret in Moose Lake'
She said the recent suicide of a resident at a party where illegally obtained alcohol was being consumed in large quantities drives home the seriousness of the problem.
But Ray Derksen, chief superintendent of the Frontier School Division, suggested those who want Patchinose removed are the ones who ought to be looking in the mirror.
"I'm just wondering what motives are at work here," Derksen said this week. He described Patchinose as an exemplary employee with a spotless driving record and a clean criminal record, both of which are subject to annual checks. Offences such as those under the LCA would not come up.
"Those are the things I'm concerned about," said Derksen. "She's been a very dependable and reliable worker. There's nothing that impacts in terms of her involvement with Frontier."
The Free Press repeatedly asked Derksen if that means he doesn't have an issue with a school division bus driver running a bootlegging business on the side. He refused to directly answer the question, but suggested anyone who does have a problem with it should keep their concerns private.
"If there are individuals who want to make accusations and allegations, they can do it through the proper protocol," said Derksen, adding that would also go for any RCMP officers who have an issue with Patchinose.
"There's a process to be followed, and it would be a personnel matter," he said.
As the Free Press noted to Derksen, these aren't simply accusations or allegations, but proven convictions that were readily available through the public record and go back several years. They show the following:
- Patchinose was arrested on April 8, 2010, on a charge of transporting liquor to a place where it's not lawful. She received $1,260.30 in fines and surcharges.
- Patchinose was arrested on April 25, 2010, on a charge of transporting liquor to a place where it's not lawful. She received $1,260.30 in fines and surcharges.
- Patchinose was arrested on April 9, 2011, on a charge of having or keeping liquor in an unauthorized place. She received $171.30 in fines and surcharges.
- Patchinose was arrested on Sept. 23, 2012, on a charge of supplying liquor or a controlled beverage to a person. She received $1,260.30 in fines and surcharges.
- Patchinose was arrested on July 28, 2013, on a charge of transporting liquor to a place where it's not lawful. She received $1,297.30 in fines and surcharges.
None of the charges on the court record provides additional details, such as the type of alcohol, the quantity or, in the case of her fourth conviction, the age of the person she supplied liquor to. There are no allegations she is using her employment as a school bus driver to facilitate these offences.
An RCMP spokesman told the Free Press this week they take the issue of bootlegging seriously, especially given the problems it can lead to in communities such as Moose Lake.
"The health and safety of Manitobans is a top priority for the RCMP in this province," said Sgt. Rob Lockhart.
RCMP declined to comment on the specifics of this case or provide an opinion on Patchinose and her current employment status. "The final decision on what to do with her would rest with (the school division)," a justice source said.
Members of the Moose Lake band office didn't return messages seeking comment this week, nor did Patchinose herself.
"My 13th year as a bus driver. S---, time flies like it was only just yesterday, but I love my job, I enjoy my time with the students and everyone I work with," Patchinose posted on her publicly accessible Facebook page earlier this year.
There are several other posts that make reference to alcohol in the supposedly dry community.
"Good morning Moose Lake, looks super warm out there this morning, its a good to go for a skidoo ride and have sum (sic) beers," she posted on March 2.