Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Review flags ineligible 'evacuees'

Ottawa to try to get money it paid out back

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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 actually evacuees from the reserve, the federal government acknowledged Friday.

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

"These things will be rectified," Dutchak said.

It will be difficult to sort out who was on the list, because there was confusion about who was eligible and who was simply taking advantage of the situation, he said.

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

Aboriginal Affairs has 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. In total, it has spent $40 million 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 -- a man who only goes by one name -- 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.

The federal government began questioning why evacuee lists from many First Nations were still growing in December, when most people should have started to return home. But it wasn't until the Free Press began asking questions in March about the rising number of evacuees that the feds launched an investigation.

Aboriginal Affairs 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 Friday asking for assistance.

So far, those communities are co-operating, Dutchak said, adding he doesn't believe there will be many ineligible people.

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

Clearly, changes must be implemented for the future, Dutchak said.

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

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2012 B1

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