Absence from council explained: Wyatt being treated for addictions

Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt is undergoing addictions treatment at the Aurora Recovery Centre in Gimli, according to sources at city hall.

Transcona councillor has been missing from city hall for three months

Coun. Russ Wyatt has been absent from city hall since January. He is undergoing addictions treatment in Gimli. (CBC News)

Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt is undergoing addictions treatment at the Aurora Recovery Centre near Gimli, according to sources at city hall.

Wyatt has been absent from work for nearly three months and has missed three consecutive council meetings, including the March gathering on Thursday. He notified the city clerk he was absent for personal reasons.

The 16-year council veteran underwent drug and alcohol treatment in January at the Aurora centre, sources told CBC News in February. He has received visits from his wife and family, the sources said, and contacted a small number of fellow councillors this week.

Wyatt went public about his treatment Friday morning in a letter to a Winnipeg media outlet, prompting Mayor Brian Bowman to praise the councillor for his courage.

"I want to wish him and his family all the very best with his recovery," Bowman said at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, where he was preparing for his annual State of the City address.

'Deeply personal matter'

"Dealing with addictions is obviously a deeply personal matter and the fact that he's speaking publicly and seeking treatment obviously bodes well for recovery."

Bowman says he hopes to speak with Wyatt when the Transcona councillor is ready. The mayor has in the past called alcohol abuse a problem at city hall and other levels of government.

Wyatt did not inform the mayor, city clerk Marc Lemoine or council speaker Devi Sharma of the reason for his absence from city hall.

Sharma issued a statement Friday, wishing Wyatt well. 

"It is a brave step to seek help and I'm glad he has done that with the support of his family and friends," she said.

'It's a big deal to admit it to yourself and to be public about it — but it helps the stigma go away. We're all supportive at city hall.'  - Coun. Janice Lukes

​Browaty, one of Wyatt's closest friends on council, says he heard from his Transcona colleague on Wednesday, but Wyatt did not disclose his addictions treatment during that conversation.

Coun. Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbery) says she is happy Wyatt is seeking to improve his mental health.

"It's a really dark tunnel, and it's really, really hard," Lukes said, adding she's had a family member seek treatment for depression.

"It's a big deal to admit it to yourself and to be public about it — but it helps the stigma go away," she said. "We're all supportive at city hall."   

During Thursday's council meeting, Bowman noted Wyatt's absence after a debate about a motion that compels the city to collect provincial education taxes, an issue Wyatt speaks to every year.

"There's no one on that floor that can speak as eloquently as he can, and it's always interesting when he's around, and right now he's not around and it's actually kind of dull." Lukes said. "He challenges people to think out of the box and I really miss him."

The Aurora Recovery Centre is located north of Gimli. It describes itself a co-ed, secure, 24-hour detoxification centre.

About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.

- With files from Shane Gibson