August 19, 2017

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Manitoba Housing evicting 18 families who haven't paid rent since 1996

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Donna Gabriel, from Portage La Prairie, holds eviction notices for families which were received yesterday and orders them to vacate the Manitoba Housing project by Monday.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Donna Gabriel, from Portage La Prairie, holds eviction notices for families which were received yesterday and orders them to vacate the Manitoba Housing project by Monday.

Indigenous families who face eviction from Manitoba Housing units in Portage la Prairie Monday have vowed to move onto the legislature lawn when they lose their homes.

"We're going to be homeless," resident Donna Gabriel said during a rally at the legislature Thursday afternoon. "The sheriffs told us we have to move out or they'll lock us out Monday."

They've been living in Manitoba Housing in Portage since 1996, but have never paid rent. The province says they owe more than $1.2 million.

"After Monday, we're going to have a sit-in here. We've got to go somewhere," Gabriel said.

Gabriel said Manitoba Housing will be evicting 18 families, including children, the elderly, and disabled persons.

They've been living in Manitoba Housing in Portage since they were forcibly removed from Waterhen First Nation in 1996 after repeatedly protesting against the chief and band council of the day, Gabriel said.

They have not paid any rent in Portage and owe the province more than $1.2 million, said Andrea Slobodian, press secretary to Families Minister Scott Fielding.

Fielding will consider meeting with the residents, but was away from Winnipeg Thursday, she said.

Slobodian said Manitoba Housing has been handling the situation, which has involved the courts and residential tenancies commission in recent years.

She said Ottawa has refused for decades to provide housing for the families, because they were no longer living on a reserve.

Slobodian said Manitoba Housing's position is, "A handful of tenants refusing to pay rent for 20 years is not fair for the thousands of other tenants of Manitoba Housing who do pay rent."

Manitoba Housing has been trying to work out the dispute, even offering in 2011 to waive rent owed since 1996 if the families agreed to pay rent from that point, she said. The families have always refused to pay.

The dispute finally reached the Manitoba Court of Appeal, which ruled in late June in favour of Manitoba Housing. Even then, Manitoba Housing gave the residents a grace period to find other housing, she said.

Gabriel agreed the families have never paid rent for their accommodation.

"The (provincial) government started an eviction process since 2010," she said. "Before that, they never bothered with us, that the rent wasn't paid."

Gabriel said when the families were removed from Waterhen, they moved onto the legislature lawn, and that's where they'll live starting Monday unless the province reverses its decision.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Nick Martin.

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