November 19, 2018

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Bylaw officer visits Thunderbird House

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>The peeling copper roof of Thunderbird House could pose a potential hazard to passersby.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The peeling copper roof of Thunderbird House could pose a potential hazard to passersby.

An Indigenous-led meeting place that’s made headlines over its mounting debt and need for repairs this week also caught city bylaw inspectors’ attention on Wednesday.

A bylaw officer visited Thunderbird House Wednesday morning and snapped photos of its damaged roof, said Richelle Scott, co-chair of the building’s board of directors.

While doing a media interview, Scott said she spotted a man in uniform who “looked kind of in a hurry and frantic, and was walking all around the building taking pictures.”

The officer did not provide an answer when she asked whether the city would be imposing fines under its neighbourhood livability bylaw. Copper roofing panels peeled away by high winds are partially attached, and could potentially pose a hazard to passersby.

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An Indigenous-led meeting place that’s made headlines over its mounting debt and need for repairs this week also caught city bylaw inspectors’ attention on Wednesday.

A bylaw officer visited Thunderbird House Wednesday morning and snapped photos of its damaged roof, said Richelle Scott, co-chair of the building’s board of directors.

While doing a media interview, Scott said she spotted a man in uniform who "looked kind of in a hurry and frantic, and was walking all around the building taking pictures."

The officer did not provide an answer when she asked whether the city would be imposing fines under its neighbourhood livability bylaw. Copper roofing panels peeled away by high winds are partially attached, and could potentially pose a hazard to passersby.

A city spokesman confirmed an officer had visited the building, and said there are no fines or offences pending.

The city’s response came as a relief to Scott, who blames Thunderbird House’s crushing debt on the alleged financial mismanagement of its previous board.

Scott said the community and cultural hub on Main Street owes about $90,000 to the Canada Revenue Agency, $80,000 in property taxes to the city and $40,000 to Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre from an outstanding loan.

"It’s scary debt. It’s not like this place has been making huge money. People just assume we have money and we don’t, because the person who was mismanaging funds also lost our charitable tax donation by not filing paperwork. And so we’ve been operating with no funding at all, and nobody wants to touch you if you don’t have your charitable tax," she said.

Scott and board co-chair David Morrison have reached out to city, provincial and federal governments asking for help, but she said their calls have not been returned.

A spokesman for Indigenous Relations Minister Eileen Clarke said Wednesday "any funding requests would need to be closely reviewed and go through the appropriate approvals."

Meanwhile, area Coun. Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas) said he’s returned Morrison’s calls and is waiting to hear back from the board about the role he can play in raising funds.

Pagtakhan suggested holding galas and socials to encourage people in Winnipeg to show their support.

"I am here to help to the best of my abilities, to the end of my term," Pagtakhan, who is not seeking re-election in October, said in an email.

"For all intents and purposes, I have started to help by requesting options for consideration. But I also need to hear back on setting up a meeting with (Thunderbird House). We need to work towards a solution on this together."

Point Douglas MLA Bernadette Smith said she hopes the province will step in.

"I will certainly reach out to Richelle and see how I can best support them and see if there’s anything I can do, like writing a letter of support to the province asking for some support to get the roof fixed, and if they need operating dollars or whatever their need is," the New Democrat said.

In an interview on Tuesday, federal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette (Winnipeg Centre) said he’s also open to getting involved, adding he could look into trying to help expedite the board’s pending request for charitable tax status. Thunderbird House’s charitable tax status was revoked in 2015 due to inadequate paperwork.

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @_jessbu

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Legislature reporter

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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