Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Evacuees whisked away

Hotel owner upset with native firefighters group

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THE Manitoba Association of Native Fire Fighters forced evacuees from hotels in Gimli and Ashern after dark Wednesday, but they'll soon be back in their old rooms, if they aren't already, the hotel owner vowed.

Mike Bruneau said he's furious officials with MANFF hustled vulnerable evacuees out of their rooms without warning at both the Misty Lake Lodge in Gimli and a motor hotel he owns in Ashern.

Flood Fight

About 65 evacuees, mostly from Little Saskatchewan First Nation and another 20 or so from Lake St. Martin, were targeted for removal by MANFF.

Most in Gimli refused to go, but two families, with about 10 people, were packed on the trucks and taken to Winnipeg, Bruneau said. In Ashern, everyone was loaded on the trucks, but they returned to their rooms when a local chief intervened.

Some 2,000 evacuees from Manitoba First Nations are still displaced since spring floods in 2011.

MANFF owes Bruneau's hotels $2.3 million in unpaid bills and there are reports the agency, in charge of co-ordinating evacuees services, also owes six hotels in Winnipeg and one restaurant for months of unpaid bills.

This is the first time MANFF has stepped in to remove people.

"They came in after management left for the day and they pulled people out, got kids out of bed, moved them out at night to hotels in Winnipeg," Bruneau said. "I can't believe this is happening," he said. "The evacuees don't want to go and now they don't know who to believe."

MANFF did not return calls Thursday.

Bruneau went public with the unpaid bills earlier this month and believes Thursday night's raid was a form of retaliation.

Bruneau has refused to evict any of the evacuees, despite mounting debts. Many in Gimli are families with children in the local school and they need the stability. He's using proceeds from other hotels he owns to keep the Gimli and Ashern ones afloat.

"They're mad at me. OK. They don't like me, but why are they making the kids suffer?"

Bruneau said he's meeting next week with senior regional federal officials with Aboriginal Affairs, who reimburse the province for funds. The province extends money to evacuees through MANFF.

"These guys have got to go," Bruneau said of the MANFF officials.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 12, 2013 A6

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