Manitoba Housing to evict residents in long-running rent dispute

Eighteen families could be evicted from Manitoba Housing Monday after not paying rent for more than a decade.

Failed compromise would have wiped out 15 years of unpaid rent

Lena Spence says she and her people haven't paid rent as a protest against the failure of the provincial and federal government's failure to provide permanent housing. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Eighteen families could be evicted from Manitoba Housing next week after not paying rent for more than a decade.

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.

Residents facing eviction told CBC News they don't know where they will go once Manitoba Housing kicks them out of their homes. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

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."

Residents are likening the eviction to when they were forced from their First Nation in 1996. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

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.

CBC Archives | 1996 Waterhen uprising

5 years ago
Duration 1:30
RCMP officers took control of the Waterhen Reserve where Natives sought shelter. Protesters were demanding their own reserve, saying the band chief was corrupt. The CBC's Reg Sherren reports in this 1996 TV story.

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

Sheriffs issued eviction notices Wednesday that say residents must vacate the Manitoba Housing homes they've been living in by Monday. (Acelynn Catcheway/Submitted)
Gabriel said she doesn't know what's next for her family, or the kids and elderly people who live in the housing.

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.


​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg. Since joining CBC in 2016, he's covered several major stories. Some of his career highlights have been documenting the plight of asylum seekers leaving America in the dead of winter for Canada and the 2019 manhunt for two teenage murder suspects. In 2021, he won an RTDNA Canada award for his investigative reporting on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which triggered change. Have a story idea? Email: