Nfld. & Labrador

Elderly couple denied resettlement money after 80 years in Little Bay Islands

The couple has a doctor's note saying they needed to be in St. John's last winter, but it didn't matter to the provincial government.

Doctor told them to leave during winter months, but government questions frequency of medical treatment

Edwin and Vine Tucker have lived on Little Bay Islands their whole lives. Now they're being told they don't qualify for resettlement money, unlike many of their friends and neighbours. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

An elderly couple from the resettling community of Little Bay Islands was dealt a blow last week when they were denied $260,000 in relocation money by the provincial government because they were away from the remote islands for medical reasons.

Edwin and Vine Tucker have split the better part of the last decade between Little Bay Islands and St. John's, as their health declined and they needed to be closer to a hospital.

Had they stayed on the small islands in Notre Dame Bay for six months in 2017, they would have gotten paid out. But they stayed only five.

"I feel sad, hurt and very, very disappointed to see how we were treated," Vine said. "Some people got in who didn't deserve it any more than I did."

The Tuckers raised five children on Little Bay Islands, in their yellow house with their shed on the wharf.

The island is only accessible by ferry, and the Tuckers opted to stay in St. John's while sea ice was packed in during May 2017. They had doctors' appointments and said they couldn't risk missing them if the ferry wasn't running.

Medical exemptions can be made under the provincial resettlement policy, but it has to be for "ongoing health care treatment."

The Tuckers had a note from their doctor saying they had to stay close to St. John's for medical reasons — Vine has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney trouble and arthritis, while Edwin has cardiac problems that led to open heart surgery — but the provincial government ruled their conditions did not require "ongoing health-care treatment."

"As far as I'm concerned, we had to be dying," Vine said. "We either had to be on chemo, or dialysis or whatever."

And so after 80 years on Little Bay Islands — 73 years of living there year-round — the Tuckers packed up in September and left.

"It's hard to leave the place you lived your whole life," Edwin said. "And then to have to just walk out with nothing, it's a bad, bad feeling."

Appeal no good

They appealed the government's position, but a Supreme Court justice upheld the decision this month.

In his judgment dated Oct. 10, Justice Daniel Boone said it wasn't his job to overrule Municipal Affairs and Environment unless its decision was unreasonable.

"It may be that the interpretation offered by the applicants is also plausible," Boone wrote. "However, it is not the role of this court on judicial review to choose between two plausible interpretations and substitute its opinion for that of the minister."

The last of the resettling residents are trickling out of Little Bay Islands as the winter draws closer. When January comes, the water and power will be shut off. The ferry won't stop by anymore.

I told the truth and I guess that's why I got disqualified.- Vine Tucker

Without the $260,000 payment, the Tuckers say they won't see their town again. They could have used the money to turn their three-storey house into a summer cabin complete with a septic tank and generator. 

"Now we can't go back," Edwin said. "We've got no water or sewer. Nothing like that. We'd have to take a generator. That can't happen with us. We just had to pack up and move."

The couple said they know of other Little Bay Islands residents who were paid out despite not being residents at all.

They were required to keep a logbook of nights they spent on the islands to prove they spent at least six months in the community over each of the last two years.

"A lot of lies was told by the people that got it, I'll tell you that right now," Edwin said.

"I told the truth and I guess that's why I got disqualified," Vine added.

For the last few years, the Tuckers spent half the year in St. John's to be close to medical treatment. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

The Tuckers can take the case to the Court of Appeal of Newfoundland and Labrador. Their son, Dwight, has been funding their case with a lawyer from Stack and Associates. 

According to the family, their lawyer believes they might have a chance on appeal, but it's unlikely they'll pay more money in legal fees to pursue the issue further.

Vine said it leaves her feeling like her 80 years spent living in Little Bay Islands didn't make her enough of a resident.

"I left out there in September and I couldn't even look back," she said with tears in her eyes. "I just looked ahead of me. It broke my heart."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Cooke is a journalist in St. John's.

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