Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Shelter's CEO, province hurl mutual accusations

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THE head of Manitoba's largest women's shelter claims there's "an orchestrated effort" within government to remove her and her board of directors -- and she says it's racially motivated.

Osborne House CEO Barbara Judt made the accusation Tuesday after Family Services and Labour Minister Jennifer Howard raised concerns about the agency's operations to reporters outside the legislature.

Howard said the province is working with Osborne House to improve the services it offers. "There have been concerns raised that Osborne House is not providing the kinds of services that we fund them for. And so we need to work with them to answer those concerns," she said.

Howard said the government has heard concerns for some time about the way the shelter provides services and how money is spent. It's launched an operational review of the agency.

"We continue to want to work with Osborne House to improve the services that they offer. Our basic, bottom-line priority is that women and children who are in need of protection from violence get excellent service," she said.

The minister is also concerned about staff and management issues at the shelter. At the urging of government, Osborne House commissioned an outside review of its human resources problems. The government has received a copy.

Howard said she could not divulge any details except to say "we know that there have been very serious human-resource concerns raised with respect to Osborne House."

But Judt claimed Tuesday there is a group within government that cannot fathom the fact an agency that serves mainly aboriginal women is run by white people.

"They're simply going to look at anything they can to get rid of us," she said in an interview.

Judt said the government's attitude was reflected by a recently revealed emailed comment by deputy premier Eric Robinson, who remarked to a staffer about the "ignorance of do-good white people." The staffer had questioned the propriety of a burlesque-show fundraiser for Osborne House. It raised a modest $750 for the shelter.

Judt, who has filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission over Robinson's remarks, said the shelter feels it is under siege by the province. She said the agency is chronically underfunded, forcing it to raise a significant portion of its operating money. Typically, Osborne House needs hundreds of thousands of dollars more to operate properly than the $1.6 million it receives from government, she said. Last year, it raised $300,000 in donations from various sources.

"If they were to properly fund the agency, as we have been asking for for years, we wouldn't have to worry about fundraising and being subjected to their ridicule when they don't agree (on the propriety of events)," she said.

Howard said the government feels it is funding the core services of the shelter adequately, and it is not unusual for non-profit groups to raise funds to cover part of their operations.

She said the province included $500,000 in its last budget to support a domestic-violence strategy that's looking at new ways to deliver services.

Meanwhile, Judt said she would have to consult her board before making public the human-resources review the organization commissioned.

She said she was told by the outside consultant issues raised in the report were typical of those in many organizations and were repairable. The Osborne House CEO said the agency was committed to dealing with the problems, which she did not identify.

"It was no different than any other human-resources review that is done," she said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 28, 2013 A4

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