‘I was just so scared,’ Winnipeg woman caught in middle of violent clash in South Sudan

Hundreds are dead as tensions continue to rise in the country

By Austin Grabish, CBC News

Posted: Jul 22, 2016 5:00 AM CT
Last Updated: Jul 22, 2016 5:00 AM CT

Elizabeth Andrea, 51, returned to Winnipeg from South Sudan on Thursday, July 21st. The Winnipeg grandma had to take cover during a violent clash between South Sudan’s government and rebel forces earlier this month.
Elizabeth Andrea, 51, returned to Winnipeg from South Sudan on Thursday, July 21st. The Winnipeg grandma had to take cover during a violent clash between South Sudan’s government and rebel forces earlier this month. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

When Elizabeth Andrea saw the armoured car, she knew something wasn’t right. But when she saw people running, she knew she had to take cover.

The Winnipeg grandmother returned home Thursday from a peacekeeping trip to Rumbek that came to a crashing halt due to escalating violence in South Sudan.

Recent clashes between the country’s military and rebel forces have left at least 300 dead. Andrea was in Juba, South Sudan’s capital when fighting erupted on July 7th.

“We saw people running,” she said. “We saw the bodies.”

Andrea said she ran to the concrete home she was staying in when the violent clash happened and credits it with saving her life.

“I was just so scared.”

Speaking in her Winnipeg home Thursday, she said she thought to herself, “I’m there. My children are here, and somebody could die anytime.”

She said she worried she was going to be caught in the crossfire when she was trying to make it home to Winnipeg. The country’s airport was shut down due to the escalating violence, and the Canadian embassy was also closed.

‘We didn’t expect that kind of thing would happen again’

Andrea, who immigrated to Winnipeg in 1998 from South Sudan, said the killings in her country shocked her.

“We didn’t expect that kind of thing would happen again.”

“It’s out of control,” she said as a poster of Nelson Mandela hanging in her living room peeked over her shoulder.

South Sudanese community grappling with news

Reuben Garang, a South Sudanese man, who is better known as a ‘Lost Boy’ for fleeing his country in 1987 with thousands of other children, said the news coming from home is “very disturbing.”

lost boy
Reuben Garang, who is known as a ‘Lost Boy’ for fleeing South Sudan in 1987 with thousands of other children, said Winnipeg’s South Sudanese community is trying to stay united. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

“For a long time, I have never lost hope. This time, it’s very difficult for me not to say that I’m not losing hope, and this is because of the complexity of the situation,” Garang told CBC Radio Thursday.

Garang said the war is creating division in the South Sudanese community, and its local leaders are trying to keep people united.

“It is very difficult to imagine that our own leaders, people that have helped in the struggle (for independence) have turned the country into a killing ground.”

Andrea said despite the violence, she remains hopeful the government and opposition forces will be able to work out a peace agreement.

“We want our people to live in peace.”

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Mystery surrounds little-known free bus pass program for people with disabilities

Advocates say the City of Winnipeg should advertise program better

By Austin Grabish, CBC News

Posted: Jul 18, 2016 4:15 AM CT
Last Updated: Jul 18, 2016 2:12 PM CT

Jesse Turner rides Winnipeg Transit for free but says the city program that allows her to do that isn’t advertised to everyone in Winnipeg’s disability community. (Austin Grabish/CBC )

A little-known city program that lets Handi-Transit users ride Winnipeg Transit for free should be better advertised and made available to more riders, advocates say.

In 2006, the city made it free for Handi-Transit users to ride regular transit for free, but several transit users CBC News spoke to say they’ve never heard of the program.

Any Handi-Transit user that uses a wheelchair, scooter, or is legally blind or unable to walk 175 metres qualifies for the program.

But numbers provided by the City of Winnipeg show only 919 users have a free pass. There are 6,371 users eligible for the program, the city said.

“It’s not something that they state outright on the public transit and Handi-Transit website,” said Jesse Turner, 34.

Turner is a wheelchair user registered with Handi-Transit but rides regular transit because she has a free card from the program.

She got the card after hearing about free fare through a friend who also had a card.

“I try to avoid using Handi-Transit just because you have to book in advance and then you’re on their schedule,” Turner said.

Eva Beaudoin is the chair of the Disabled Women’s Network of Manitoba and said she never heard about the free fare program until CBC News contacted her.

Beaudoin, 58, lives with a disability, uses a cane to get around, and is on a fixed income.

She uses Winnipeg Transit for convenience and sits in priority seating on the bus but said she would apply for Handi-Transit just to receive the free fare.

Eva Beaudoin
Eva Beaudoin is the chair of the Disabled Women’s Network of Manitoba and said she’s never heard about a free fare program that lets Handi-Transit users ride the regular bus for free. (Austin Grabish/CBC )

“I think it should be done for everybody all people with disabilities,” Beaudoin said.

“It would save a lot of money.”

Josh Brandon, a community animator for the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, said the free fare program should be better advertised so it can reach more people. He suggested the city advertise directly on Winnipeg Transit buses.

Brandon said Handi-Transit is already a program difficult for many to get into.

“There’s always a problem when you have programs that are application based.” “That’s why we prefer programs that are more universal,” he said.

City of Winnipeg spokeswoman Alissa Clark said in order to ride regular transit for free, Handi-Transit users must obtain a photo ID card, which is good for three years.

Clark said the majority of Handi-Transit users have impairments that prevent them from using Winnipeg Transit and suggested that could be the reason for the discrepancy in the numbers.

Handi-Transit
Advocates say the City of Winnipeg should advertise a city program better that lets Handi-Transit users ride Winnipeg Transit for free. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

She said letters are sent out to all Handi-Transit users who qualify for the program and clients are also informed about the free program verbally.

But some say they were never told about the program.

Libby Zdriluk, 30, uses both Handi-Transit and Winnipeg Transit to get around. She said she didn’t know about the waived fare program until a free card arrived in the mail one day.

“It just showed up,” Zdriluk said.

“Obviously, I was pretty mad to find out I could’ve been riding for free,” she added.

Scott Best is legally blind and has a free fare card. But the 26-year-old said he hardly uses it because he finds Winnipeg Transit too difficult to navigate.

He said the free fare program feels “a little weird” since he can’t use it easily.

Terry McIntosh, 54, rides Handi-Transit and doesn’t have the free fare card.

“It would be useful but with our weather in winters I couldn’t use it half the time If I wanted.”

She added she doesn’t mind paying to ride the bus. “We want to be treated equal so why would I use the bus free?”

“It’s probably not a perspective most people would agree with, though,” she said.

‘People don’t move’: Strollers vs. wheelchairs on Winnipeg Transit

Advocates say overcrowded buses and parents with strollers are leaving wheelchair users on the curb, so who should get a seat?

Posted: Jul 04, 2016 5:45 AM CT
Last Updated: Jul 04, 2016 6:07 AM CT

Libby Zdriluk, 30, says finding a spot on Winnipeg Transit is becoming harder due to crammed buses and parents with strollers taking up accessible spots.  Libby Zdriluk, 30, says finding a spot on Winnipeg Transit is becoming harder due to crammed buses and parents with strollers taking up accessible spots. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

By Austin Grabish, CBC News

People living with disabilities are calling on the City of Winnipeg to make sure they can catch a seat on the bus hassle-free.

Advocates say overcrowded buses and parents with strollers are leaving wheelchair users on the curb.

The Independent Living Resource Centre said parents with strollers are taking up accessibility spots on buses on a daily basis.

Allen Mankewich, a wheelchair user and consultant with the Independent Living Resource Centre, said it’s an issue he deals with regularly.

“I had an issue myself the other day. There was myself on the bus, one of my colleagues [and an] oversized stroller with three wheels on the bus,” Mankewich said.

Allen Mankewich Allen Mankewich, a wheelchair user and consultant with the Independent Living Resource Centre, said Winnipeg Transit should create a policy so oversized strollers don’t take wheelchair spots on Winnipeg Transit buses. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

“We basically had to play Tetris to get ourselves in and out of the bus.”

Libby Zdriluk, 30, uses a power wheelchair to get around and said she’s had to wait in frigid temperatures during the winter because strollers have taken the only space available for wheelchairs.

She wants Winnipeg Transit drivers to make sure wheelchair users get on the bus hassle- and confrontation-free.

Currently people with disabilities are being left to fend for themselves, she said.

“I just wish the drivers would automatically say ‘move over’ or ‘get off the bus for a minute,’ but they just don’t seem to do that,” she said.

The City of Winnipeg said it has decals on all of its low-floor buses to indicate designated areas for wheelchairs and strollers.

Spokeswoman Alissa Clark said drivers are trained to help passengers with wheelchairs or strollers and are supposed to ask riders without mobility issues to move if a seat is needed.

But Eva Beaudoin, 58, said it’s always a struggle finding room on the bus when there’s a stroller. She said she finds it awkward asking people to move so she can ride the bus.

“I have to practically ask for a seat and then I get a dirty look,” Beaudoin said.

“People don’t move.”

But not everyone in the disability community feels wheelchairs should be given priority over strollers.

Winnipeg disability advocate Jim Derksen said he wants the City of Winnipeg to add more flexible seating on its buses, so both wheelchairs and strollers have more room.

“I believe in universal design and don’t think our needs are any more important than parents with children,” Derksen said.

John Callahan, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, which represents Winnipeg bus drivers, said the union wants more buses put on the street to help deal with the issue.

He said drivers have raised concerns about strollers taking accessibility spots on the bus and the absence of a policy instructing drivers what to do about it.

“It’s something that’s been around for a long time, but there’s been no official stand on how to approach it,” Callahan said.

“I think they need to look real seriously at it.”

U.K. Supreme Court case

In the U.K., the battle between a wheelchair user and a bus firm has gone to the country’s Supreme Court.

Disability activist Doug Paulley took his case to a lower court in 2012 after being told he could not get on a bus when a mother with a stroller refused to move.

The Supreme Court held a hearing into the case in June and Paulley said he hopes to receive a ruling from the court in the coming months.

He said he is optimistic about the case and hopes it will end with better enforcement of the rights of people with disabilities.

“Public transport should be available for everybody,” Paulley, 38, told CBC News via Skype from Wetherby, England.

Raw sewage plagues Shoal Lake 40

Austin Grabish / For Metro                                   Kavin Redsky, a Shoal Lake contractor, takes a break from clearing garbage at Shoal Lake 40's only garbage dump. The dump is close to homes and is leaking into the community's only untreated water souce, a new report by Human Rights Watch has found.
Kavin Redsky, a Shoal Lake contractor, takes a break from clearing garbage at Shoal Lake 40’s only garbage dump. The dump is close to homes and is leaking into the community’s only untreated water source, a new report by Human Rights Watch has found.
By Austin Grabish For Metro

SHOAL LAKE, Ont. — Kavin Redsky is pushing a front-loader trying to keep garbage off the road.

Down the street, untreated raw sewage is seeping into the ground.

“This is our main road,” Redsky says. ”It’s pretty nasty eh?”

Sewage leakage on Shoal Lake 40 and the absence of clean drinking water are two of several issues documented in a 92-page report Human Rights Watch is set to release Tuesday in Toronto.

The New York-based human rights watchdog’s report titled, “Make It Safe: Canada’s Obligation to End the First Nations Water Crisis,” has found tainted water and broken septic systems are “jeopardizing” health for First Nations people living on five reserves in Ontario.

In Shoal Lake 40, families are using bleach in baths, children are growing up without clean water, and sewage is leaking into the community’s only water source, according to the report.

“The septic fields, the tanks, the pumps, everything is failing,” said Chief Erwin Redsky.

The human rights group said the federal government’s failure to provide First Nations with water and septic systems that are on par with what other Canadians enjoy is “discriminatory and violates the rights of First Nations persons to equality before the law.”

It also said the water crisis is impeding on First Nations’ cultural rights recognized by international law.

“The water crisis is the result of years of discrimination compounded by lack of accountability,” said Amanda Klasing, the Human Rights Watch researcher, who penned the report.

Shoal Lake 40, located near the Manitoba-Ontario border, was severed from the mainland a century ago during the construction of an aqueduct to carry fresh water to the City of Winnipeg.

While clean water flows into Winnipeggers’ taps, members of the First Nation have been under a boil water advisory for 18 years — an irony that has brought national attention to the issue of water access on First Nation communities.

Metro visited the reserve last week and spotted green liquid sewage dumped in grass just steps off of the community’s main road, where homes are located at the end.

Garbage left by community members, who have nowhere else to take it, was also seen floating in ditches and spread across the main road.

“It’s not pretty,” said Stewart Redsky, who is a community social worker.
Redsky said Shoal Lake 40’s sewer truck operator is embarrassed to show visitors the sewage that Metro found.

“He says himself ‘I don’t want to show anybody what we are forced to do,’’ he said.

Redsky said many visitors who come to Shoal Lake 40 come thinking the reserve’s problems have been corrected, but the community’s struggles are far from over.

“I actually get a little bit emotionally stirred up when people come in with that perception,” he said.

“It’s just the beginning.”

 

Kenneth Redsky, a Shoal Lake 40 sewer operator, stands next to a septic truck that collects waste in the community. The truck has been dumping raw sewage on land across the reserve, which has no working sewage plant.
Kenneth Redsky, a Shoal Lake 40 sewer operator, stands next to a septic truck that collects waste in the community. The truck has been dumping raw sewage on land across the reserve, which has no working sewage plant.
In April, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent a day touring Shoal Lake, but Chief Redsky said despite the high-profile visit, nothing’s changed.

“We’re still isolated. Our road’s still not passable right now,” he said.

“We can’t dispose of our waste. We’re on this artificial island with nowhere to take it.”

But still, Redsky said he remains optimistic about his community’s plight.

The design for an all-year road dubbed ‘Freedom Road,’ which would take the community out of isolation and provide access to the reserve all year, is almost done, and construction on it could start as early as October, he said.

Currently, the only way into the community is through a barge or a deadly winter road, which has claimed the lives of band members, who have died falling through the ice.

“Everybody takes roads for granted. For us it’s life and death,” the chief said.

‘I don’t want to go home in a coffin’: Five years on, Lake St. Martin residents dying to go home

IMG_3798.jpg
Margaret Traverse (left), 77, weeps as she offers her condolences to Edee O’Meara, whose mother Maryanne O’Meara passed away on Mother’s Day.

By Austin Grabish For Metro

Edee O’Meara stands in a hotel room preparing to say goodbye to her mom, wearing a shimmering black dress and sparkling new high heels.

Her mother Shee Sheeb, a Lake St. Martin elder, left specific instructions and a prepaid debit card for this night.

“She said make sure all my grandchildren are dressed nice.” So, her three daughters are in “pretty dresses” for the funeral.

Shee Sheeb, known only on paper as Maryanne O’Meara, died in St. Boniface Hospital on Mother’s Day. She had a heart attack in March and was suffering from anxiety. She was 68.

She is the latest band member from Lake St. Martin to die.

It’s gone now, but a portable hospital bed once filled the cramped hotel room that She Sheeb called home.

O’Meara said her mom developed stress-related illness and anxiety two years after Lake St. Martin flooded in 2011, which left the band’s 2,000 members homeless.

“She was a picture of health,” she said. “If we were not evacuated we would not be doing this right now.”

Austin Grabish / For Metro
Edee O’Meara prepares the blanket to go over her mother’s casket in the hotel room she lived in before she died. Shee Sheeb is the latest band member to pass away.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held in June of last year to symbolize the rebuilding of the community. However, hundreds are still waiting for their homes to be rebuilt, and there is no firm completion date, according to the federal government.

The province is also cutting a channel from Lake St. Martin to Lake Manitoba, to help it drain more quickly in times of higher water.

In the meantime, the community is suffering dramatic losses due to suicide and to their people being exposed to higher-risk lifestyles in the city.

There’s a knock at the door. Lake St. Martin’s oldest elder Margaret Traverse, 77, arrives to offer her condolences.

Traverse lives two doors down from Shee Sheeb and is frail as she weeps. “It never used to be like this.”

Shee Sheeb’s body arrives and is waiting down the hall outside.
Women drum asking the Creator for help as the casket makes its way into the hotel’s ballroom – the same room evacuees pick up their monthly living allowance.

It becomes standing room only as hundreds come to say their goodbyes.
Standing in front of the casket, Lanna Moon, 7, stands proud and sings, “I love my granny.”

She’s so small you can’t see her at the back of the room, but her voice still manages to bring the room to tears.

“I don’t want to go home in a coffin,” said Traverse, staring ahead at Shee Sheeb’s casket.

“That’s what they all say,” a relative sitting next to Traverse replied.

 

Screenshot 2016-03-12 11.54.35

Wab Kinew has apologized, but is that enough?

The so-called ‘star’ candidate who is running for the NDP in Fort Rouge was finally starting to feel the heat yesterday, as the Liberals called for his resignation over past tweets he made that the party deemed offensive.

The tweets, which made fun of gays, lesbians, First Nations children and fat women, came to light last Monday, a day after the 34-year-old faced criticism and re-apologized for past misogynistic and homophobic song lyrics he wrote as a rapper.

But the criticism for Kinew wasn’t a problem – people seemed to believe Kinew’s apology and the media did not scrutinize him for his tweets.

Yet just a week prior, the NDP called on Jamie Hall, a Liberal candidate, to resign over social media posts he made that referred to women as whores and skanks.

Hall, unlike Kinew, was rightfully scrutinized in the media and then stepped down.

Some argued an apology Kinew made years prior for his lyrics was good enough, but it’s hard to use that apology as justification for ignoring his tweets.

The tweets, which were dug up by Winnipeg political consultant David Shorr, who is the former director of communications for the Liberal Party, are disturbing.

Screenshot 2016-03-12 11.54.48

Kinew tweeted “Riding in my limo back to my king sized sweet feeling really bad for those kids in Attawapiskat #haha #terrible #inative.”

The Ontario First Nation is plagued by poverty and other social issues and was dealing with a housing crisis at the time of Kinew’s tweet.

In a reply to a 2009 tweet about H1N1, Kinew asked: “Is it true you can get it from kissing fat chicks?”

In another tweet, Kinew said he was going to wrestling class “Because jiu-jitsu wasn’t gay enough” and “My bro is convinced that ‘Do you like the 90s?’ is a gay pick up line.”

Kinew also tweeted about running over a cat and posted a photo of an aboriginal person sleeping on the ground.

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 12.24.29 PM

But perhaps even more troubling is that these tweets were made when Kinew was employed as a broadcaster at the CBC and associate vice-president of indigenous affairs at the University of Winnipeg.

On Friday, Kinew told a wall of media he’s been an ‘open book,’ transparent, and accountable.

He said the tweets were made when he was an angry young man suffering from self-hatred and arrogance.

But some of that arrogance seemed to continue as he snapped at reporters, who pressed him while he stood next to Premier Greg Selinger.

At one point, Selinger had to tell Kinew to keep his cool.

And on Friday evening, a quick glance at Kinew’s Instagram account revealed more questionable posts for a politician to have.

So, is Kinew really sorry?

Or is it that the 34-year-old still needs an attitude change?

Screenshot 2016-03-11 23.49.31

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 12.10.57 PM

 

 

austin.grabish@gmail.com

 

Shoal Lake band member says ‘Canada needs to smarten up’ following visit to UN

 

IMG_1289.jpg
Linda Redsky, 55, with her nephew Adam. AUSTIN GRABISH / FOR METRO

The UN’s heard their story, but for now band members living on Shoal Lake 40 First Nation must wait.

My follow to Linda Redsky’s trip to Geneva for Metro is below.

By Austin Grabish For Metro
She’s shared her community’s story with the world, but for now, Linda Redsky and other Shoal Lake 40 band members must wait.

Redsky was to return to Shoal Lake yesterday following a weeklong trip to Geneva, Switzerland with Human Rights Watch and Samantha Redsky, another band member.

Linda, 55, told a UN committee on economic, social, and cultural rights that “Canada needs to leap and not shuffle” when it comes to First Nations water rights.

She explained to the committee how she must travel off reserve just to bathe her 14-year-old nephew Adam who otherwise breaks out with eczema from the First Nation’s water, which is tainted with parasites.

He just breaks out, she said while shaking her head showing Metro the boy’s eczema Sunday.

Shoal Lake 40 provides the City of Winnipeg with clean water, but lies in isolation on an island cradling the Manitoba-Ontario border and has been under a boil-water advisory itself for almost two decades.

The grandmother said while her community’s fought for years for change, she didn’t realize her human rights were being violated “on so many levels,” until she arrived at the UN.

She said Human Rights Watch didn’t mince words when presenting about Shoal Lake 40, and neither did she in an interview Sunday.

“Canada needs to smarten up and start dealing with these issues,” Redsky said.

“All these years they’ve been kind of dragging their feet whenever we bring up our issues nothing really gets done about it.”

She said she was disappointed to hear Canadian representatives tell the UN they would need five years to correct issues brought forward by Shoal Lake and other First Nations last week.

“We need to be treated with dignity and not be put on the back shelve,” she said.