Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province delivers payback: shelter CEO

Claims concerns in letter are revenge for flap over 'do-good white people'

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Family Services Minister Jennifer Howard has brought the hammer down on Osborne House almost a month after it exposed deputy premier Eric Robinson for a comment he made concerning "do-good white people."

A bureaucrat from Howard's office presented letters to the shelter's seven board members at its annual general meeting late Thursday, ordering them to appear at a meeting 5 p.m. Friday at a downtown government office.

Howard's two-page letter, obtained by the Free Press, outlines eight concerns the province has with the operation of the shelter, from allegations of a hostile work environment to the quality and frequency of counselling services.

"An immediate plan of action to Manitoba's satisfaction must be developed within the next seven days by Osborne House to address these serious issues and concerns," Howard said in the letter. "It is my expectation that in short order Osborne House will resume its high standard of service delivery to vulnerable... children resident in the shelter."

The board members were to meet with Marlene Bertrand, chairwoman of the Manitoba Women's Advisory Council, and Leanne Ellard, a program specialist in the province's Family Violence Prevention Program.

Howard was unavailable for comment Friday.

'We were expecting they were going to pull some sort of stunt. We were prepared'

-- Osborne House CEO Barbara Judt, on her suspicion the review is retaliation over complaints of racism

Osborne House CEO Barbara Judt said Howard's action is in retaliation for Judt accusing Robinson of racism.

"We were expecting they were going to pull some sort of stunt," Judt said Friday. "We were prepared."

Judt said she believed the government's action against Osborne House are part of a wider plan for another agency to take over its operations.

"We know they're up to something," she said.

The fight between Manitoba's largest shelter and the province surfaced in late August when a number of emails between senior government officials -- obtained through a freedom-of-information request filed by Judt last Dec. 19 -- were leaked to Winnipeg media outlets.

An email from Nahanni Fontaine, special adviser on aboriginal women's issues, to Robinson expressed concern about a Free Press report about a burlesque fundraiser for Osborne House.

'An immediate plan of action to Manitoba's satisfaction must be developed within the next seven days'

-- Manitoba Family Services Minister Jennifer Howard to Osborne House in a letter

"This is SO bad and looks SO bad and is simply a bad idea on the part of the Osborne House ED (executive director)," Fontaine wrote to Robinson in a Nov. 22, 2012, email. "Like what was she thinking? Did the board approve this 'fundraiser' ?"

Robinson replied in a email two hours later, "I know nothing of this matter and haven't seen today's freep (Winnipeg Free Press) but I will now."

The remaining two sentences of Robinson's email were supposed to have been blacked out.

However, clearly visible are the words: "On the surface it is not a very good idea and moreover further exploits an already vulnerable group in society. It also further demonstrates the ignorance of do-good white people without giving it a second thought."

Robinson initially refused to apologize to Judt for his comment, but later issued a public apology.

Judt rejected it, calling it "false and insincere."

'We know they're up to something'

The release of the emails Aug. 22 coincided with the completion of a consultants' review done on Osborne House's operations that found a number of shortcomings -- file documentation did not meet accepted standards, many clients did not have planning when they left the shelter and there was no documentation of culturally relevant or culturally sensitive resources being made to aboriginal clients.

Judt said Friday the shelter has already addressed or is in the process of addressing these concerns.

However, she added the province is demanding the shelter turn over documentation for staff and volunteer child-abuse registry checks, criminal-record checks and adult-abuse registry checks.

Judt said there's no valid reason for the province to make that demand and that by doing so, the shelter would be violating privacy laws.

She also said for months Osborne House has requested a meeting with the province to resolve these and other issues. Under the province's own funding agreement to the shelter, when a meeting is requested, it must take place within 30 days, she said.

"We respectfully asked them for that, so then we could go back to work, and they've refused. The problem is the government never responds to us."

The province funds Osborne House at about $1.6 million annually and during the course of an average year, the shelter helps about 9,200 women.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 21, 2013 A4

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