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Sex offender housed among Manitoba fire evacuees, band councillor says

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Fire evacuees from Wasagamack wait in line at the RBC Convention Centre on Aug. 31 to register with the Red Cross. </p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Fire evacuees from Wasagamack wait in line at the RBC Convention Centre on Aug. 31 to register with the Red Cross.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/2/2018 (250 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — An Island Lake band councillor says last summer’s wildfire evacuees were traumatized during their stay in Winnipeg, claiming a sexual offender was housed among them.

“A known sexual offender was placed in the same large shelter as hundreds of women and children. As a result, many women were afraid for their personal safety and that of their children, and were afraid to sleep or to walk alone to the restroom,” Mary Jane Monias wrote in a brief to the Commons committee on Aboriginal issues.

The Free Press could not verify these claims.

Monias is a councillor with St. Theresa Point First Nation, one of three reserves on Island Lake that together had between 6,000 and 7,000 residents relocated to Winnipeg in late August. That’s more than half the residents of the fly-in communities of Garden Hill, Wasagamack and St. Theresa Point, which were hit by wildfires.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/2/2018 (250 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — An Island Lake band councillor says last summer’s wildfire evacuees were traumatized during their stay in Winnipeg, claiming a sexual offender was housed among them.

"A known sexual offender was placed in the same large shelter as hundreds of women and children. As a result, many women were afraid for their personal safety and that of their children, and were afraid to sleep or to walk alone to the restroom," Mary Jane Monias wrote in a brief to the Commons committee on Aboriginal issues.

The Free Press could not verify these claims.

Monias is a councillor with St. Theresa Point First Nation, one of three reserves on Island Lake that together had between 6,000 and 7,000 residents relocated to Winnipeg in late August. That’s more than half the residents of the fly-in communities of Garden Hill, Wasagamack and St. Theresa Point, which were hit by wildfires.

The Aboriginal committee is studying on-reserve fire prevention and evacuation. Evacuees have previously described cramped, uncomfortable shelter conditions and difficulty reaching family.

But in a brief submitted last month, Monias paints a picture of how roughly evacuees fared while sleeping on cots in the RBC Convention Centre and the Winnipeg Soccer Federation’s Soccer North complex in West Kildonan, as well as hotels across Manitoba. (It was not made clear by Monias where the reported sex offender was housed.)

The Red Cross disputes some of her claims, but says the relief organization has learned from some of the difficulties last summer.

Monias alleges Red Cross staff wouldn’t remove dangerous people from the shelters.

"The women took shifts around the clock to monitor the activity of the sexual predator," she wrote. It’s unclear whether there was a concern about a predator violating probation conditions.

"Drug dealers were seen gathering at the shelter. In one case, a child was able to get outside the shelter and make it all the way to a city bus. One individual with a mental illness and required one-to-one supervision, but was not provided, was able to get away from the shelter and get lost in the city, twice."

Shawn Feely, the Red Cross vice-president for Manitoba and Nunavut, said these problems would have been raised in the daily morning meetings between staff, volunteers and community leaders.

"The police were in the shelters; private security (was) in the shelters and we also had community liaisons in the shelters," he said in a Monday interview. "If issues were brought up, it would be dealt with appropriately by those organizations."

Feely, who co-ordinates relations with First Nations and governments, got a second-hand sense of how the evacuation went through detailed reports, but said no one reported to him a concern about a sexual predator.

He said safety concerns aren’t part of the intake registration, but that community leaders would bring those concerns to shelter staff who would find an appropriate solution.

Kildonan-area MP MaryAnn Mihychuk, who chairs the committee, said she’d raised these concerns with Red Cross staff, who said they couldn’t remove people who had nowhere to go.

"It was horrendous," said the Liberal MP. "The conditions also need to be standardized; I think it’s unreasonable to expect people to be lying on a cot… for 10 days, up to three weeks."

Monias, who could not be reached Monday, also claimed Child and Family Services officials didn’t co-ordinate with the Red Cross to prevent inappropriate contact in the large shelters.

"In some cases, a parent who was to have no unsupervised contact with their child would be in contact with them as a result of them all being placed in the same shelter. This was traumatizing to these children," she wrote.

The councillor also said there was a lack of child care, but Feely said supervised a playpen was made available, though only during set hours. "They’re not ideal places… but they’re there for emergency situations."

Feely said at its peak, there were roughly 1,100 people in both shelters, a number that dropped to around 400 within four days.

The Red Cross has agreements with multiple hotels, and that roughly 50 were used to house evacuees, mostly in Winnipeg and Brandon but some as far away as The Pas and Thompson. They only house evacuees for five or more days at a time, to reduce stress caused by constantly moving.

Feely said the sheer number of evacuees proved challenging to the Red Cross, who has been given federal funding to do a five-year review with any First Nation in Manitoba interested in developing emergency plans, so evacuations are done in culturally sensitive ways that use locals’ skillsets.

Part of that has been debriefing sessions with the affected communities. "It went very well. There are areas to improve, and we are working with them."

Feely said media coverage has ignored the "wonderful job" First Nations had pulled off in co-ordinating the evacuation flights, and later helping people resettle.

"We all agree that supporting the community to build on their own capacity, to be able to handle their own situation, is the right direction."

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

 

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History

Updated on Tuesday, February 13, 2018 at 10:21 AM CST: Corrects PDF embed

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