Lake St. Martin homes slated for demolition sold off instead
$2 million of federal government money was meant for demolitions, James Bezan says
Some condemned buildings slated for demolition at flood-ravaged Lake St. Martin have been sold off instead.
The federal government has already paid out nearly half of an agreed upon $1.98 million to have 133 buildings torn down.
But it appears a number were moved off the reserve and sold by the band's chief and council.
"These are very serious allegations," said James Bezan, Member of Parliament for Selkirk-Interlake, in a press release Thursday afternoon. "The $2 million from the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AANDC) contract with Lake St. Martin First Nation was to demolish the homes because they were contaminated, not to resell them."
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On Friday afternoon, Bezan issued another statement that said, provided the allegations are true, his expectations have been violated.
"It is our expectation that Chief and council acts in good faith and respects taxpayer dollars," the statement read. "Their actions have not only undermined the public's trust, but has also gotten in the way of returning the residents home. These residents have been through enough and do not deserve this."
Noel Beardy's home at Lake St. Martin was slated for demolition even though it had never been touched by flood waters.
"I kept thinking we were going to go home,” said Beardy. “ I thought this evacuation was going to be temporary, because my house wasn`t really affected by the flood — it was on high ground."
Steve Ashton, the provincial minister responsible for emergency services, said this week the evacuations were a short-term solution meant to ensure the safety of Lake St. Martin residents.
"Nobody wanted to see people go back into flood-contaminated housing in areas that could be impacted again by floods," said Ashton.
The province said it is working with Ottawa and the band to move the reserve to higher ground.
"It's far better to invest that in flood mitigation and making sure people have homes and live-in communities that are flood-protected," said Ashton. "We're doing that now and it will be a long-term solution.
But three weeks ago friends called Beardy and said they saw his house on the move.
"I started getting calls that people seen that house on highway number six, on April 4 coming south."
Instead of being destroyed, the home was sold to a private individual as a cottage.
Beardy tracked it down in Delta Beach, 300 kilometres from Lake St. Martin, still full of his possessions.
"Man, I was really upset, I didn't even know what to think,” said Beardy. “I just took pictures and I just wanted to get out of there right away. I was really upset, even when my clothes were still there.”
Residents of Lake St. Martin fled the reserve in 2011 when a number of homes were damaged by flood waters.
Clarence Morse questioned how the homes could’ve been sold once condemned.
“If those homes were condemned, why would they sell them to non-native people when they could've came and fixed them and moved them to a higher location where people could've moved home? Where's all this money they got for selling these homes?”
Edee O'Meara said she is tired of being bounced around.
O'Meara and her three daughters have moved 28 times in the last three years.
"It seems like everyone wants to throw the evacuee here and there," said evacuee Edee O'Meara. "There is a constant argument about who is responsible."
20 buildings sold
Now it appears at least 20 buildings, including several mobile classrooms, were sold off.
The owner of a campground in Fairford, Man., said he brokered a sales deal for some buildings with Lake St. Martin's chief and some councillors.
The band doesn't have independent control of its finances; it's under third party management. Such a deal requires approval from Ottawa.
Noel Beardy has gone to RCMP with questions on these matters.
"When they were supposed to be demolished, why were they sold for other people to live in if they were condemned? And who's making money? What happened to the money?"
Bezan said not all of the the $2 million of the contract with AANDC has been transferred, and Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada officials are going to suspend further transfers until the allegations are investigated.
"We will forward any evidence of criminal wrongdoing to the appropriate policing authority," said Bezan. "Taxpayer dollars must be used for their intended purposes only."
A spokesperson for Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada said the money sent to the band was for demolitions.
Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada hasn’t said whether these sales were allowed under the demolition contract. However, they have said neither the department nor the third-party manager was involved in the transactions.
Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada is investigating and will forward the findings to police if warranted.
A spokesperson for Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada confirmed late Thursday evening that the federal government has suspended any further payment earmarked for demolitions in Lake St. Martin until they’ve determined whether there's been any criminal wrongdoing.
One-thousand people from Lake St. Martin are still living in hotel rooms and temporary apartments. To date, the cost of supporting evacuees has reached nearly $100-million.