Manitoba Housing to evict residents in long-running rent dispute
Failed compromise would have wiped out 15 years of unpaid rent
Eighteen families could be evicted from Manitoba Housing next week after not paying rent for more than a decade.
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The families took to the steps of the Manitoba Legislature Thursday afternoon to protest the province's plan to evict them on Monday.
"I don't know where we're going to go," said Lena Spence, a resident who's lived in the Manitoba Housing property in Portage la Prairie since 1996.
She and others are from the Waterhen First Nation in Manitoba and have lived in the government housing since 1996 when they were forced from their reserve when an uprising in the community triggered a standoff with RCMP, leaving about 190 people displaced.
Spence said residents were only supposed to live in Manitoba Housing for a short time while the provincial and federal governments found a permanent place for displaced residents to go.
However, her people were never relocated, so they stopped paying rent to protest what she described as a broken agreement to find them permanent housing.
"I want a home," Spence said. "We don't have a real place."
A Manitoba Housing spokesperson said the province is following a court order to evict the tenants.
The spokesperson said the government has been working for several years to try to reach an agreement with the tenants, and in 2011 offered a compromise that would have wiped out 15 years of unpaid rent, but the residents refused.
Manitoba Housing then took the matter to the Residential Tenancies Commission and then the courts.
The province says it's owed more than $1.2 million in missed rent and legal costs.
A Manitoba Court of Appeal judge ruled in favour of evicting the residents this summer and issued a court order to have it done by Aug. 28. However, eviction notices left by sherriffs Wednesday say the residents only have until next Monday to leave. The locks will be changed that day.
"It's an awful feeling that you can't even explain you just don't know, you feel so numb," said Donna Gabriel, another resident.
Gabriel explained band members can't simply return to Waterhen — there are no homes for them and relationships in the community were broken after the uprising: "We're not here by our choice."
Minister stands behind order
She said the group plans to protest outside the Manitoba Legislature over the coming days and will have to find a church or community hall to sleep in if sheriffs move ahead with the eviction Monday.
Families Minister Scott Fielding told CBC News in a statement he stands behind the government's decision to uphold the court order to evict the residents and would consider meeting with the group if they request a meeting.