Saskatchewan

Four people charged with assault after incidents at U of R dorm housing evacuees

The evacuees staying at the University of Regina are under duress and struggling in an unfamiliar environment, said Saskatchewan's fire safety commissioner Duane McKay after several disturbances and three incidents on the campus that led to criminal charges.

Evacuees under significant duress as they adapt to new environment, says Duane McKay

It's not clear when the evacuees from Pikangikum First Nation will be able to return home. There are about 420 people from that community who are living in Regina. (Caroline Bourdua/Radio-Canada)

The evacuees staying at the University of Regina residences are under duress and struggling in an unfamiliar environment, said Saskatchewan's fire safety commissioner Duane McKay after several disturbances and three incidents on the campus that led to criminal charges. 

About 420 people have arrived in Regina from the Pikangikum First Nation, a fly-in community in northwestern Ontario. It's still not clear when they will be able to go home. 

Saskatchewan's government pledged to accept as many as 2,000 evacuees last week as fire threatened the community. McKay said there has been "a number of incidents" that have occurred since their arrival.

Some of the disturbances involved violence and damage to the residences, but McKay said nothing amounted to "large-scale destruction." 

"These individuals are coming from a very remote community, they're in a very strange environment," he said. 

McKay said one evacuee believed this was the most foreign place he's ever been.

"There's a lot of duress there, and ultimately that causes people to do things they wouldn't normally do." 

People charged in assaults

​According to a police news release, one woman was seriously injured in what appeared to be a physical alteration. Campus Security became aware of a fight in one of the rooms on Saturday around 4:09 a.m. CST.

​Police found a 28-year-old woman who was seriously injured and later arrested the 29-year-old man who lived with her.  The man was charged with aggravated assault and disobeying a court order.

Police were also also called to the residence the night prior because of a fight. 

Paramedics looked after the 24-year-old victim. Two men, aged 19 and 22, were arrested and charged with assault causing bodily harm. 

A 27-year-old woman has also been charged with common assault after an incident involving another evacuee on Sunday night. 

McKay said it's not uncommon to see fights break out when people are living in close quarters amid stressful circumstances. 

"We have a tiered response to all of these particular issues," McKay said. 

There is a command post at the dorms. The on-site contingent includes university staff, police, several tribal councils, provincial organizations and the Red Cross. 

McKay said it's helpful that liaison officers from Ontario are there to work closely with evacuees. 

"They're from the community, they know the people," he said. 

The co-ordinated team is also handling other disturbances, like property damage. 

McKay said some incidents have involved carpet and bedding, but would not expand further. He noted Indigenous Services Canada is responsible for the cost of clean up and restoration. 

It's up to Ontario officials to determine when the evacuees will return home.

In the meantime, evacuees have access to an outdoor field, gym, swimming pool and television rooms, said provincial co-ordinator for emergency social services Deanna Valentine. 

Language barriers, culture shock 

Valentine repeated what McKay said about the evacuees' challenges. 

"Many of the people who we have here in Regina now have not been to an urban centre before, so as you can imagine, it's very strange for those people," Valentine said, noting culture shock and language barriers for the Ojibwe speakers. 

Regina Treaty/Status Indian Services executive director Erica Beaudin agreed. 

​"The culture shock, as well as the trauma of leaving their homes and not knowing when and if they'll be going back ... has been so traumatizing."

The organization is trying to help ease the pressure on evacuees by gathering traditional food. 

Beaudin said they are asking for donations of fish, wild meat and berries, so evacuees can have meals like they would at home.

They've received donations, but Beaudin said it's not enough to feed the 400 evacuees. She acknowledged that it's not hunting season, but said even one or two packages could help. 

Beaudin said there is also a need for mental health and social work professionals to volunteer their time to work with the evacuees. 

About the Author

Kendall Latimer

Journalist

Kendall Latimer began her journalism career in print as a newspaper reporter in Saskatoon and then as a feature writer in Bangkok. She joined CBC Saskatchewan in 2016. Latimer shares stories on web, radio and television. Contact her: kendall.latimer@cbc.ca

With files from the Morning Edition