PHOTOS: Meet Manitoba’s new official voyageurs

Festival du Voyageur has unveiled the identity of its new official ambassadors.

The festival announced tonight that the Perron-Beaudry family will represent it over the next two years. The family of five starts official ambassadorial duties Sunday evening.

The family’s identity was a closely-guarded secret until just after 9 p.m. tonight at the official unveiling at the Franco-Manitobain Cultural Centre.

Festival du Voyageur executive director Ginette Lavack Walters said organizers wanted to attract more people to the unveiling by building suspense, and it appeared to work. The cultural centre was packed with an anxious crowd that cheered and crowded around the family after their faces were finally revealed.

If you want to go but haven’t had a chance to visit Festival du Voyageur yet this year there’s no need to fret. The festival still has a day of activities planned and doesn’t wrap up until late Sunday night.

Festival du Voyageur executive director Ginette Lavack Walters does a run-through in a hidden room backstage with Christian Perron (centre) and his son Manu, before they are named the festival’s new official voyageurs./AUSTIN GRABISH
Véronic Beaudry waits with a smile in a hidden room away from the curious public at the Franco-Manitobain Cultural Centre before being named one of the festival’s new official voyageurs./AUSTIN GRABISH

An anxious crowd enjoys some live music before the big unveiling.

The Perron-Beaudry family has made their way to the stage but teases the crowd a little bit more before unveiling their faces./AUSTIN GRABISH
The wait continues for a few more moments./AUSTIN GRABISH
The suspense is over as Christian Perron and his family show their faces. / AUSTIN GRABISH
Manu Perron stands tall with pride as he gives the crowd a wave./AUSTIN GRABISH
Nicole Beaudry (back left) with her children Félix Perron, Manu Perron, Véronic Beaudry, and husband Christian./AUSTIN GRABISH








UN committee to hear plight of waterless Shoal Lake First Nation Monday

Canada is ‘struggling’ to meet human rights obligations, according to a report obtained by Metro

The world is about to hear from Shoal Lake 40 band members.

Below is a copy of my story that ran nationally today for Metro Canada.

By Austin Grabish For Metro

Linda Redsky is packing her bags, leaving her isolated community, and preparing to share the plight of Shoal Lake 40 on the world stage.

Redsky and possibly a second band member will join Human Rights Watch at the United Nations in Geneva on Monday as the rights watchdog presents a report detailing its preliminary findings on Shoal Lake 40 and three other Ontario reserves.

The presentation will be made to the UN committee on economic, social and cultural rights, which is reviewing Canada’s track record on human rights.

The group started investigating living conditions on Shoal Lake, Neskantaga, Batchewana, and Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, last year after Shoal Lake started making headlines.

The reserve, which lies on the Ontario-Manitoba border, provides the City of Winnipeg with clean drinking water, but has been under a boil-water advisory itself for nearly two decades and is cut off from the mainland.

Redsky, 55, has fallen through an ice road while trying to cross into the community during the winter, and recently had to temporarily relocate off-reserve to Kenora, Ont. so her foster son could attend high school.

She said she’s seen the plight of her community get worse over the years “as I’ve watched the people continue to go across.”

“I’ve seen vehicles going through. The loss of life,” she said.

Redsky said the boil-water advisory has made it almost impossible to bathe on the island.

“My boy, for instance, he’s got eczema and I have to take him off the community just to go bathe him in clean water,” she said.

A copy of the Human Rights Watch report, obtained by Metro, says Canada is struggling to fulfill its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The 17-page report details how the Shoal Lake water treatment system was never equipped to filter out Cryptosporidium, a parasite that causes diarrhea and is active in the community’s water.

Human Rights Watch senior researcher Amanda Klasing said the boil-water advisory on Shoal Lake is an example of how aboriginal people living on reserve lack the same protections other Canadians enjoy.

“Let it be known that they are struggling in Canada to vindicate their basic human rights including access to clean water and sanitation,” Klasing wrote in an email.

Klasing said Human Rights Watch will release a full report on its findings later this year.

Death threats sent to gay University Of Winnipeg student in hate mail blitz

Hazim Ismail, 27, is an international student at the University of Winnipeg. He’s received hate mail from Malaysians after being outed as gay to his family.
Hazim Ismail, 27, is an international student at the University of Winnipeg. He’s received hate mail from Malaysians after being outed as gay to his family.


Hazim Ismail just wants the messages to stop.

The gay international student studying at the University of Winnipeg has been inundated with hundreds of messages decrying him for being gay, with death threats topping the list.

The hate mail started a couple of weeks ago after Malaysian media outlets picked up on the 27-year-old’s fight to stay in Canada after he was outed as gay.

Ismail’s family was paying for his tuition and living costs, but cut him off completely after seeing a photo of him taken at a local gay bar.

After local media in the city reported the story, Malaysian outlets got a hold of the story, and that’s when the hate mail started pouring in.

“It went viral and I was really alarmed,” Ismail said, adding some of the mail even came from his own mother via email., a Malaysian social news company, asked people to vote if they thought Hazim would become an LGBT spokesperson, be ostracized, or be given ‘a second chance.’

On the poll one comment read, “Here’s my vote, Hazim go and die,” Ismail said, adding another read, “Repent you ignorant prick.”

The story had over 15,000 shares Thursday morning.

Hazim Ismail.

Ismail said he also received a message from a Malaysian, who offered to pay for his flight home if agreed to convert back to Islam.

But he’s also received messages of support from closeted gay men in Malaysia who were touched by his story.

“I love the positive messages because they fill me with hope like maybe one day Malaysia will change,” he said.

He said because his face is all over the Internet, he’s now more scared to return home than he was in December when he was fundraising for tuition so he could stay in Canada.

Sodomy is a criminal offence in the country that’s punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

“I wouldn’t even want to be in Singapore, the next country over,” he said.

Ismail is seeking refugee status and has a human rights lawyer working on his case. He’s expected to appear before the Refugee Board sometime in April.

Note: Malaysian media may not copy my words about Hazim here. If you do, you’ll forever be held in my utter contempt, which you wouldn’t want.

Gay U of W student had good reason to fear deportation

Canada needs to do more for LGBT people seeking refuge 

University of Winnipeg student Hazim Ismail, 27, had feared deportation to Malaysia until this afternoon when a GoFundMe page he made peaked. He says his family cut his funding off after he was outed as gay.

At first glance he doesn’t seem scared, but it doesn’t take long before the fear in this man’s voice begins to set in.

The paradise this 27-year-old’s been living in might soon end, and it’s all because he’s been outed as gay.

Hazim Ismail knows he is facing the very real reality of being deported home.

It’s why he started a GoFundMe page after being outed to his family back home in Malaysia.

Ismail knows the potential punishment if he’s convicted: 20 years in prison, because he’s gay.

Despite this, when I meet with Ismail for the first time a few weeks ago, he tries to be cheerful.

He tells me he’s been touched by support from the community, and has enjoyed getting involved with on-campus activism at the University of Winnipeg.

He also tells me he never would’ve been able to leave Malaysia if his family knew the real reason he was coming to Canada.

He adds he doesn’t think Canada would have been much help either, and he’s probably right.

A study released in September by a research team with Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights found LGBT asylum seekers faced ‘serious obstacles’ when trying to immigrate to the country.

Perhaps it’s why Canada has remained at the bottom of the United Nations’ list of top countries most likely to take in refugees. It’s the same list it used to nearly champion.

For Ismail, he caught a sigh of relief this afternoon.

“I am crying right now. Don’t worry. They are tears of joy,” he wrote.

“Today, my GoFundMe campaign reached its goal. Whether you like it or not, I’ll be staying here and am only going to become more rebellious with my activism on Treaty One Territory.”

Now let’s hope when the winter term ends, another GoFundMe isn’t needed.


University of Winnipeg student fears deportation after being outed as gay

On Friday I said I’d be back with a human rights related story soon.

Here it is.

Hazim Ismail fears he’ll be sent back home to Malaysia where he could face persecution for being gay.  

By Austin Grabish / For Metro 

Disowned by his own family for being gay, Hazim Ismail says living in Canada has been a relief since fleeing Malaysia three years ago.

But the University of Winnipeg student fears he’ll be sent back home if he doesn’t raise the remainder of his winter term tuition in the coming weeks.

“I don’t really know what’s going to happen. I’m just so nervous about it,” said Ismail, 27.

Ismail came to Winnipeg in 2013 so he could live without fear of persecution, but was soon outed to his family by a cousin, who he suspects saw a photo of him taken at a local gay club.

“I have to make sure that I don’t have any relatives on my Facebook, but apparently I missed one, and then I was outed to my mother, and it just became this snowball of a conflict,” he said.

His family, who was paying for his tuition and living expenses, cut him off after finding out about the photo, he said.

Sodomy is a criminal offence in Malaysia that’s punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and Ismail said simply visiting an underground gay club in Malaysia could land someone in jail.

“You’re susceptible to raids by the Islamic police,” he said.

“Dating in Malaysia is hell,” he added.

On Saturday, Ismail had managed to raise $4,550 out of the $5,000 goal he’d set for tuition on a GoFundMe page.

He said he’s been ‘touched’ by the outpour of support from the community, but fears if he doesn’t come up with the remainder of his tuition and living costs, he’ll lose his immigration status and be sent home.

“I guess I’m still worried,” he said.

“I’d like to stay here awhile.” “The community’s been amazing and people have been super super great.”

If you want to donate to Ismail, visit his GoFundMe.

Mother of missing woman ends nearly two month long campout

But Brenda Osborne says she’s leaving legislature without answers 
Brenda Osborne stays warm beside a fire lit in honour of her missing daughter Claudette at a camp outside the Manitoba legislature.

A sacred fire outside the Manitoba legislature that was to stay lit until answers about missing and murdered aboriginal women were found has been put out.

But Brenda Osborne, whose daughter Claudette has been missing since 2008, is still searching for answers about what happened to her daughter.

“We’re hoping and praying that things are going turn out still,” Brenda said.

She and others started camping outside the legislature on Oct. 1 in honour of Claudette, but left last Wednesday.

Brenda said she had to leave because two of Claudette’s children were recently taken into the care of Child and Family Services.

“I got a lot of things I have to deal with,” said Brenda, who’s been trying to bring attention to the province’s child-welfare system.

The CFS system has triggered years of heartache for the Osborne family.

Just two weeks before Claudette vanished in 2008, her newborn baby girl Patience was taken into care.

Claudette, 21, was battling a drug addiction and working in the sex trade when the baby was seized.

Brenda said Claudette was making it her mission to get clean so she could get the baby back, but then she vanished.

“July 10th she was born and she was gone July 24th,” Brenda said.

With the 1971 murder of her cousin Helen Betty Osborne lurking in the back of her mind, Brenda said she frequently reminded her daughter to be careful.

“I always told her that it was dangerous and how are you going to trust anybody?” she said.

Claudette Osborne has been missing since July 2008.

Missing now for almost eight years, Brenda’s partner Gilbert Gauthier says going to bed at night hasn’t gotten easier.

“She cries everyday and it kills me,” he said.

Brenda wants to have input on an inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women, the new Liberal government has committed to launch, and remains skeptical of the promise.

“We don’t even know what’s going to happen,” she said.

“Us families have nowhere to go, but wait by the phone.”