Saskatchewan

U of Regina increasing security after alleged assaults involving wildfire evacuees

People at the University of Regina may notice more security and personnel on campus, as about 420 fire evacuees from Ontario settle in.

Fire safety commissioner says most evacuees from northwestern Ontario settled in and doing well

About 420 evacuees from Ontario have been evacuated to the University of Regina due to wildfires in that province. (CBC)

People at the University of Regina may notice more security on campus over the next while.

It comes following last week's arrival in Regina of about 420 people from the Pikangikum First Nation, a fly-in community in northwestern Ontario, which has been evacuated due to wildfires.

Duane McKay, Saskatchewan's fire safety commissioner, emphasized that most of the evacuees have been adjusting well to life on campus with university students and staff.

"We haven't had reports where there's been any negative interaction," he said.

But there have been reports of some incidents among evacuees.

Four have been charged with assault after multiple fights reportedly broke out over the weekend at the residence towers where evacuees are staying.

There has also been some property damage at the dorms, although McKay said it's not "large-scale destruction."

"It isn't much different than what you would normally see when you have a sports team come in or whatever else," he said.

Email from U of R

Paul Dederick, a spokesperson for the U of R, said there have been some student-residents expressing concerns for their safety and comfort on campus.

"We have reached out and we've spoken to a number of them; university administration has met with them, and we're working together to try and figure out options and solutions."

CBC has obtained an email the university sent to students about the influx of evacuees.

"Due to the increased volume of visitors on campus, and to address some concerns over safety, the university has taken a number of steps to ensure the campus community remains safe," the email says.

The campus security service has contracted external security to help out, the email says. There are also personnel from emergency social services, the Red Cross and the Regina Police Service on site, as well as additional custodial staff.

"The university is pleased to be able to assist in a time of such need," the email says.

"Many units have been working extremely hard to accommodate our unexpected guests and make activities and some facilities available to our guests."

Dederick said security services are available 24 hours per day and people can request security escorts.

'Strong traumatic experience' for evacuees

McKay, meanwhile, said there is also a strong presence by Regina police and they're working with campus security, as well as other involved organizations, to prevent further incidents.

"We have brought all of the different agencies together to ensure that we have good, strong communications on a regular basis," he said.

"That seems to be working very well because [Monday] night was very quiet compared to the first night that they were here, where you have a strong traumatic experience of being evacuated and into a very strange environment."

He said the province has also been working with the Independent First Nations Alliance, which is the tribal council for the Pikangikum First Nation area, as well as local tribal councils.

McKay also addressed two rumours that have been swirling about housing and money for evacuees.

He said while a rumour has circulated that rival gang members have been housed together, there is no evidence of that. Police and security are, however, on the lookout for any possible gang-related issues, he said.

Another rumour suggests evacuees were given cash upon their arrival in Regina.

"There's no money paid out to any of the evacuees," he said.

"They have their own income and cheques that come in on a regular basis, so no money was handed out to anybody."

Timeline for return

McKay said it's still unclear when evacuees will be able to return home, although he confirmed it won't be Tuesday or Wednesday.

He said rainfall in northwestern Ontario has helped get the wildfires under control, but lightning strikes in the area caused some damage to Pikangikum First Nation's water treatment plant, which could delay their return.

The community's health centre is also being upgraded to ensure people have the resources they need when they return home, according to McKay.

McKay said plans are underway to get evacuees home, but they'll need to get clearance from the province of Ontario before sending anyone back.

In the meantime, Deanna Valentine, Saskatchewan's co-ordinator for emergency social services, says evacuees are being provided with food, clothing and recreational activities, including internet access.

"People are definitely settling in and starting to enjoy each other," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cory Coleman is a journalist for CBC Saskatchewan.

With files from Charles Lalande

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