Charges laid in alleged sexual, physical abuse of 17 children in Garden Hill First Nation
2 men from Manitoba First Nation charged with multiple offences, RCMP say
Two men from Garden Hill have been charged with multiple sexual offences against children, including one man who had access to a foster home in the Manitoba First Nation, RCMP say.
An extensive investigation identified 17 alleged victims of physical or sexual abuse that police say occurred between 2011 and 2017. RCMP could not confirm Thursday if the children identified were residents of the Garden Hill foster home.
The children were between the ages of three and 15 at the time of the alleged abuse.
Paul Bruce Harper, 21, from the fly-in community 475 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, has been charged with multiple sexual offences, police said. He was first arrested on Feb. 25, 2018, after sexual assaults were reported.
Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Supt. Michael Koppang, who heads Manitoba RCMP's major crimes division, said police learned during the investigation Harper had access to a residence that served as a foster home.
Working with Manitoba Child and Family Services, police identified 150 children who were in contact with the accused. All 150 were then interviewed or assessed.
As the investigation continued, Koppang said a 20-year-old man from the community was arrested on Sept. 7, 2018, and has since been charged with multiple sexual offences. That man cannot be named because he's being charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Both men remain in custody.
Foster mother at home charged
Lucy Harper, 66, who ran the foster home, has been charged with perjury and two counts under the Child and Family Services Act, including a count of failure to report a child in need of protection and one of failure to provide for a child in need of protection.
She has been released with conditions and is no longer a foster parent, Koppang said.
He said he couldn't release information about the nature of the relationship between Paul Bruce Harper and Lucy Harper. However, CBC News has learned Paul Harper is Lucy Harper's grandson.
At Thursday's news conference, Koppang issued a plea for any other victims to come forward.
"We recognize the possibility that there may be more children who have been victimized and are urging them to come forward and to speak with our investigators," said Koppang.
"We recognize that calling the police is an extremely difficult step to take, but I want to assure anyone who is thinking of coming forward that our officers are professional and compassionate, and will work with victims to explain every step of the process."
Support for victims
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas and Garrison Settee, grand chief of the northern First Nations advocacy group Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, told reporters at the news conference their organizations want to work together to support victims.
"It's shocking," Dumas said of the charges.
"I felt very strongly that I needed to be here to come and show support to the victims. I let our colleagues know here that there needs to be some vigilance, to assure that everything is done … to help the victims."
"The victims will need a lot of support," said Settee.
"We want to ensure that their leadership is behind them and we're there to exercise our duty to protect and also to … facilitate healing to the victims, and also to the community at large."
Dumas said the Garden Hill investigation highlights broader issues in Manitoba.
"I don't think it's isolated.… We need to address the overall issue of child welfare in this province," he said.
"There needs to be more accountability measures, and there needs to be more care towards our children and more prevention set forward."
Police said Thursday they have partnered with Klinic Community Health, which can accept reports from survivors of sexual assault who are 16 or older from anywhere in Manitoba.
The survivors can remain anonymous and work with Klinic counsellors to determine the best way forward. The centre's 24-hour Sexual Assault Crisis Line can be reached at 1-888-292-7565.