2011 Manitoba flood evacuees take feds to court over end of housing stipends

Seventy families from Dauphin River First Nation, forced out by flooding seven years ago, are still living in Winnipeg because they do not have houses in their home community.

Lawyer for Dauphin River First Nation says new homes not built yet

Dauphin River First Nation is suing the federal government over a decision to end housing stipends residents have received since the community was flooded out in 2011. (Shutterstock)

A Manitoba First Nation that was flooded out in 2011 is taking the federal government to court.

Seventy families from Dauphin River First Nation, forced out by flooding seven years ago, are still living in Winnipeg because they do not have houses in their home community.

They were forced to leave their homes due to flooding in 2011, when the Manitoba government diverted water from the Assiniboine River to reduce the risk of flooding in Winnipeg.

Last month, Indigenous Services Canada said it would be ending residents' housing stipend, which has been used to pay for rent and incidentals like food and diapers while homes in the community, located about 240 kilometres north of Winnipeg, are being rebuilt.

CBC News has reached out to Indigenous Services Canada for comment.

Harley Schachter, the lawyer representing Dauphin River First Nation in the suit, says 45 homes still need to be built before everyone is able to return home.

"A conscious decision was made by the federal government to flood out First Nations, including Dauphin River First Nation, with the knowledge that their homes, their property and their traditional lands were going to be damaged or destroyed," he told CBC News Thursday.

"At the time assurances were given that the First Nation would be taken care of, that their sacrifice would be recognized.

"It's our hope that Canada and Manitoba will honour their promise."

Schachter said Dauphin River's chief and council received notice from Ottawa Aug. 23 telling them the monthly stipends — which he said were "less than $3,000 per family a month" — would be cut off on Aug. 31.

'What am I supposed to do?'

He says the federal government reversed the decision for some families after touring the First Nation and conceding around 20 homes weren't completed.

Everyone else, he says, is on their own.

"I had people calling me and crying," he said. "One lady — eight-and-a-half months pregnant — saying, 'I have to stay in Winnipeg. I'm about to give birth, I have no house to go to — what am I supposed to do?'

"You can only imagine the angst and the anguish people are going through not knowing if they're going to be out on the street in 24 or 48 hours."

Another issue, says Schachter, is that the government expects everyone who lived in a house in 2011 to move back into the new homes with the same people.

But he says some who were in their teens in 2011 have since started families of their own over the last seven years.

"The promises made made it absolutely clear that the condition to which that the First Nation would return would be better than what they left," he said.

"The promise was not to replace existing infrastructure, the promise was to rebuild the lives of the people in the community by enhancing what was there.

"This was the price that Canada and Manitoba agreed to in order to save Winnipeg and surrounding environs from hundreds of millions of losses."

Schachter says when he filed the court case, Indigenous Services Canada said it would continue paying the stipend to those without homes until there is a decision.

The case will be heard by a Federal Court judge later this month.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson