STEINBACH, Man. – They got their march, and there were no protesters.
“Love always wins,” said Michelle McHale, the driving force behind Steinbach’s first Pride March.
“I never in a million years dreamed that I would see this before me,” McHale said.
“We kind of thought that if we got all our friends together, family members maybe we’d have 200 people.”
There was no official tally of those in attendance, but an RCMP spokesman estimated as many as 3,000 came out to today’s march and rally.
There were so many people out in support of Steinbach’s first Pride, the march and a rally that followed at city hall were delayed twice.
“Apparently, our roads are not designed for love,” one man shouted.
McHale told a packed children’s park, where the march started, traffic was bumper to bumper backed up all the way to Ste. Anne Man., located some 15 minutes outside the city.
Numbers aside, history was made today in this rural Manitoba city.
Many in Steinbach, a staunchly Conservative community, have fought for months against today’s march. Some threatened to protest.
But there were no protesters seen on city streets here today.
Instead, a sea of rainbow colours and signs denouncing homophobic comments made by some community members brushed over this normally quiet city.
Some criticized the noticeable absence of local politicians like Conservative MP Ted Falk, who said attending Pride would go against his beliefs. Others held signs saying, “God loves gays” and “cancer is not caused by homosexuality.”
Jennifer Schroeder, 24, is from Steinbach and held a pink sign that said “Jesus had two dads and turned out fine.”
Schroeder said she knew holding the sign went against her family’s beliefs.
“We need to break the lines,” “You know there’s tension here in the community, and we need change to happen.”
Mason Godwaldt, 18, was instrumental in organizing Saturday’s march.
The trans man came out last June and said although there’s lots of positive change happening in Steinbach many are still scared to admit they are part of the LGBT community.
“That’s because there are still so many people that don’t agree with it. So instead of being shunned by family and friends they hide who they are. They put on a mask and deny them true selves. I know this because I lived that life,” Godwaldt said.
Most of the supporters at Pride that spoke with Daily Xtra were from Winnipeg, but McHale said there were plenty from Steinbach.
She said she was surprised there were no protesters since some had threatened to take to the streets.
Still, McHale said she expects local queer people will be shunned in the future, but she left those people with a strong message.
“We will not be silent any longer.”
“Love is love is love,” shouted a woman in the crowd after McHale made the comment.
McHale said her message to local LGBT people living in the area to find their allies.
“Allies want to help, but they don’t always know to do,” she said.
Steinbach Mayor Chris Goertzen was also absent from Saturday’s Pride. He didn’t return requests for comment.
McHale said there will be a Pride celebration again next year.
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, 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.
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.”
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.
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.
A bitter battle over a proposed group home for people living with intellectual disabilities in Stonewall may have ended.
But for the three adults who will call nine Rossmere Crescent home, their battle is far from over.
They will continue to face discrimination from opponents who’ve forgotten it’s 2016 and fear the presence of an adult living with an intellectual disability.
The controversy started last December when the Association for Community Living put forward an application to Stonewall council to rent a home in the upscale neighbourhood of Stone Ridge Meadows.
Outdated zoning rules that have failed to keep up with provincial human rights legislation forced the association, which already has several group homes in Stonewall and Selkirk to make the request with council.
Sharon Inman has a son who lives with a disability.
“It’s really quite heartbreaking as a family member to have to go through this and to ask permission,” Inman told the Stonewall Tribune.
“Most people do not have to ask permission for their family member to live in a home,” Inman said.
The controversy over the ACL group home has been the talk of the town, and likely will continue to be for months, and it’s all because of a handful of residents with a bad case of NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard.
One woman explained her rationale in a letter to the editor, “We are in no way “rejecting” the proposed group home residents. We are parents too. We are trying to protect our investment, maintain the single-family home zoning as it was when we invested in the neighbourhood.”
It was the same story two years ago in Gimli when the town council tried to update its zoning bylaw so organizations like ACL didn’t need to seek permission when opening a new home.
The RM of Gimli’s request was quickly met with opposition from residents living in the upscale community of Pelican Beach, who emailed the town saying they didn’t want ‘sexual deviants’ as neighbours.
But when opponents showed up to a public hearing attended by reporters, they weren’t so blunt.
Instead, they insisted they have nothing against people with intellectual disabilities or any group home for them – just as long as it wasn’t going near them.
“We have no problem with there being any kind of use anywhere else,” said one opponent, who feared his property value would be lowered if a home came to his neighbourhood.
Stonewall council voted unanimously to approve ACL’s request Wednesday night after hundreds of outraged locals threw their support behind the request.
But the opponents were nowhere to be seen.
So what’s the fear?
–With files courtesy of Jennifer McFee, the Stonewall Tribune.