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







‘She hasn’t been forgotten’

‘She hasn’t been forgotten’

Police seek public’s help in solving 1988 missing person’s case

Cathy Williams.jpg
Cathy Lynn Williams, seen above in this undated police handout, has been missing since 1988. (RCMP handout)

We see their names in the headlines.

Claudette Osborne.

Jennifer Catcheway.

Hillary Angel Wilson.

Osborne and Catcheway have been missing for years. Wilson murdered, then dumped in a field.

The women and their families’ search for answers have received much media attention over the years, but sadly there are others who are missing that we don’t hear about like Cathy Lynn Williams.

The 22-year-old St. Andrews woman vanished in Winnipeg in 1988 and hasn’t been seen since.

In recent months, police have quietly been asking for the public’s help in solving the case, but in a day where headlines of missing indigenous women are commonplace, will anyone care?


My story on Williams is below.

By Austin Grabish

She vanished under mysterious circumstances on a late summer night and hasn’t been seen in almost three decades, but police insist the case of Cathy Lynn Williams hasn’t fallen cold.

The St. Andrews woman was just 22 when she went missing after a day trip to Winnipeg on August 22, 1988, and has never been found.

Police seem poised to solve Williams’ case and highlighted it and others in a hasty ad campaign in the weeks leading up to Christmas last year, but details of it are being kept close to the chest.

Both Winnipeg police and RCMP have been oddly mum when pressed for simple details about the case.

Williams is one of 28 missing or murdered persons being investigated by Project Devote, a provincial task force made up of investigators from Winnipeg police and RCMP.

Project Devote team commander Sgt. Rob Lasson said police are still treating Williams as a missing person and are not ruling out the possibility she’s alive though it’s unlikely.

“It’s not a cold case it’s an active investigation,” he said.

Lasson said Williams was last seen at the Santa Lucia on St. Mary’s Road in Winnipeg, and that information’s different from what police first told media in 1988.

Newspaper archives reviewed last week by the Record say Williams went missing near the 200 block of Furby Street in the city.

Her adoptive mother Thelma Williams, who was 86 when her daughter went missing, told the local paper Cathy was in Winnipeg to apply for a job as a parking attendant on the day she went missing.

She told a reporter a note was found after her daughter’s disappearance that sounded like she was ‘saying goodbye.’

Raymond Johnston, a 31-year-old welder who had proposed to Cathy a year prior, was reported to have found the note.

Four months after Williams vanished, Thelma said she thought her daughter was living in Winnipeg, but couldn’t understand why she didn’t contact her especially since she had been blind for over a year and relied on her daughter’s help.

St. Andrews Mayor George Pike was Williams’ neighbour on Mitchell Bay and remembers seeing her grow up.

“She was going to school and playing sports at the community club,” Pike said.

The former Winnipeg police officer didn’t work on Williams’ case, but remembers the door knocking by police that happened when she went missing.

“They had rumours where she was or where she went, but nothing was ever finalized,” he said.

Pike said he didn’t know if Williams had any family members that are still alive, but he recalled that her home was sold many years ago and has changed hands a few times since.

Lasson declined to say if Williams left behind any other relatives, but said police are searching for answers.

“She hasn’t been forgotten we’re actively working on this case.”

He said anyone with information about Williams is encouraged to come forward even if they think the information may be hearsay.

“People need to understand that even the smallest bit of information can link two huge pieces together, so anything is important,” he said.

“It can even be as simple as somebody phoning in saying they last saw her with a certain person or they last saw her wearing certain clothes.”

Tips can be left with Project Devote by calling 1-888-673-3316.

If you have information about Williams, the Record would also like to speak with you.

Austin Grabish can be reached at

— First published in the Selkirk Record print edition February 11, 2016, p. 2 

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.

Manitoba’s aboriginal dropout rate is alarming

The number of aboriginal students that are dropping out of Manitoba high schools is alarming, yet no one seems to be outraged by the latest figures, which were released by Manitoba’s auditor general on Friday.

The new numbers show that since 2010 only 55 per cent of aboriginal students graduated high school while a whopping 96 per cent of non-aboriginal students graduated during the same period.

But Norm Ricard’s 50-page report might just be scratching the surface.

In fact, one aboriginal educator tells me dropout numbers are probably much higher because many students she knows choose not to disclose their aboriginal identity on paper during school registration.

Watch for my full story in the Selkirk Record on Thursday and see what the local high school there is doing there to combat dropout rates and restore traditional teachings.

An infographic I made that shows the latest numbers is below.

The heartbreaking battle over a home for people with disabilities in Stonewall

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.

 Heartbreaking indeed.

“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.

Tory hopeful handled loss well

Tory candidate Jim Bell’s campaign headquarters on election night.

He had hoped for the touchdown victory, but Tory hopeful Jim Bell fell short in the end zone during Monday night’s federal election.

It was a close race in the Kildonan-St. Paul riding, and one that left many on edge.

The winner of the riding, Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk, was the last candidate in the province to, at least officially, be declared a winner by Elections Canada.

It was a nail-bitting win, with Mihychuk coming in with just 1,220 votes more than Bell.

The former president of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers said he’s used to close finishes, and perhaps that’s why he handled the defeat so well.

He didn’t put blame on the federal Tories or try to dodge reporters’ questions after he was edged out of the race.

Instead, he took the time to call and congratulate Mihychuk, and shake the hand of every journalist, who stuck around till the end.

In an election where we saw a Conservative candidate peeing in a cup, another touting gay conversation therapy, and then finally a party supporter call journalists “lying pieces of shit,” it was nice to see a Tory candidate with some class.

So thanks, Jim.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.