Friday, August 29, 2014
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Evacuees accuse MANFF of bullying

Claim of withholding milk for kids, pressuring them to leave Misty Lake Lodge

By: Larry Kusch

Winnipeg Free Press

Flood evacuees residing at Misty Lake Lodge say the Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters (MANFF) is withholding benefits from them while pressuring them to leave the Gimli hotel.

On Thursday, about two dozen residents trekked to the Manitoba Legislative Building to call attention to their plight.

They said MANFF has been bullying them by failing to supply diapers, milk and juice for kids and refusing to pay a customary allowance for incidental expenses.

At the same time, MANFF co-ordinators have been texting residents, pressuring them to transfer to another hotel.

"We came here to try to get some answers about MANFF," said Randy Anderson, who was evacuated from Little Saskatchewan First Nation and now lives at Misty Lake with his partner, Leanne, and their five children.

He's upset MANFF is withholding benefits to his family -- although he is grateful lodge owner Michael Bruneau has stepped in to provide the supplies.

The more than two-dozen flood evacuees staying at the lodge -- it once housed as many as 180 -- say they've been well-treated there and don't want to move.

Anderson worries his older children's education will suffer if the family is forced to relocate to a hotel in Winnipeg. The kids have been attending school in Gimli. "They're trying to take the schooling away from them as well," he said of MANFF.

MANFF is the organization contracted by Ottawa to co-ordinate services to flood evacuees in Manitoba. Until this week, the association owed millions of dollars to Bruneau for housing evacuees at the Gimli lodge and a second Bruneau-owned hotel in Ashern.

Bruneau has been at odds with MANFF over chronic non-payment of evacuee bills. He's also complained about the behaviour of MANFF co-ordinators, accusing them of drunkenness and of being rude and abusive to evacuees.

Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard, who met with Misty Lake residents Thursday, said the province needs to step up, along with the federal government, to ensure MANFF pays its bills and treats evacuees with respect.

The provincial government acts as an intermediary between Ottawa and MANFF, paying the association as it submits receipts for evacuee expenses and then in turn billing the federal government. On Monday, Bruneau received two cheques totalling $2.6 million, which means he won't have to close the Misty Lake Lodge Sept. 1 as he had threatened to do. But MANFF still remains behind in its accounts, he said.

Officials from MANFF have refused to comment on its dispute with Misty Lake Lodge.

Last month, the federal and provincial governments announced the Canadian Red Cross would replace MANFF in delivering evacuee assistance. However, the Red Cross's resources are stretched and the governments later said the Red Cross would conduct an assessment of evacuee needs for Ottawa.

Manitoba Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson was not available for an interview, but an aide passed on a message from him that read in part: "Flood evacuees have the right to feel safe during this very difficult time away from their homes and communities. (Federal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development) Minister (Bernard) Valcourt has assured me the federal government is working to secure a more capable agency to deliver federal emergency response services to First Nations."

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