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


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.

Manitoba’s largest high school lacking handi-bus

‘Discrimination,’ says mother

By Austin Grabish

Sharon Machinski has one wish she’d like to see come true before her daughter finishes high school.

The Winnipeg mother wants a mobility vehicle to be purchased for students in wheelchairs at Sisler High School.

“I would love to see that van pull up at school I really would,” Machinski said.

Machinski says the absence of a handi-van is leaving students like her daughter Laura, 19, behind.

Machinski said her daughter, who lives with cerebral palsy, has been unable to attend a school work placement that provides social and pre-employment skills due to the absence of a mobility vehicle.

She asked the Winnipeg School Division’s board of trustees Monday night to consider putting $65,000 aside for a three-person mobility van that her daughter and other students at St. John’s High School could use.

Machinski said the division has mobility buses that transport students to and from school, but during the day they are unavailable so a special vehicle must be called, and the service is often unreliable.

Trustee Dean Koshelanyk said he was ‘deeply concerned’ to hear students are missing programming off-campus that’s part of their curriculum.

“That’s absolutely ridiculous,” Koshelanyk said.

Machinski said she’s gotten used to seeing her daughter miss out on opportunities other students have, but that still angers her.

“I would call it discrimination,” she said.

Machinski said she sometimes picks Laura directly up from school, so she can attend her work placement, but then “I feel guilty because I know I’m leaving four other students behind.”

Trustee Chris Broughton asked Machinski if she’d support a pilot project addressing the issue, and Machinski nodded and said she absolutely would.

She told a reporter she’s hopeful the board will do something before her daughter ages out of the school system.

“They seem to be very supportive.”

But trustee Mike Babinsky warned board matters take time and a van may not be purchased before September.

“The wheels around here sometimes don’t move as quickly as we’d want them to,” he said.

The board has until March 15 to complete its 2016 / 2017 operating budget.

The $396.5-million budget is calling for a five per cent tax increase from property owners, which is equivalent to roughly $62 for a home valued at $203,900.

Twitter: @AustinGrabish

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.


What the new Liberal gov could mean for human rights

Expect to see a ‘very significant shift’ forward, expert says

Foreign Affairs -- Ottawa
Flags hang in the lobby at Foreign Affairs in Ottawa.

Justin Trudeau’s appointment of 15 women to federal cabinet may have been historic enough to make international headlines this week, but the buck doesn’t stop with the high chamber.

Trudeau, his new MPs, and Canada’s foreign ambassadors, are going to have to work collectively if they want to restore the peacekeeping title this country once displayed on the international stage.

After a decade of Harper, there have been significant shifts in how Canada does human rights work at home and abroad.

In 2013, when I was working on a human rights degree at the University of Winnipeg, I had the chance to travel to New York on a study tour with stops at several high-profile NGO’s, embassies, and the UN.

It seemed like everywhere we went, my classmates and I were reminded of just how minuscule Canada’s humanitarian role overseas had become.

There was an overwhelming sense of embarrassment felt as we were told repeatedly that Canada plays no role in issues it used to champion.

The United Nations in New York.

Under the Harper government, we saw the Canadian International Development Agency shut down, funding for ‘advocacy’ work go out the window, and some of the country’s most respected diplomats silenced.

Then, there was the country’s refusal to sign UN pacts like the Arms Trade Treaty, which bans the transferring of illegal weapons likely to be used in crimes against humanity.

Marilou McPhedran, an international human rights expert, said Canada has had ‘a very modest’ contribution to peacekeeping missions under Harper.

With the Grits’ diverse new cabinet, she’s expecting to see an unprecedented emphasis placed on peacekeeping as well as a push for an integrated gender alliance that goes beyond cabinet.

She points to people like Patty Hajdu, Canada’s new Status of Women Minister, who has come from the front lines of ‘rights’ work in Thunder Bay, Ont.

And then there’s Canada’s first indigenous Justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould.

“We have a much more closely aligned cabinet on values, and it really isn’t defined along gender lines (or) regional lines either,” McPhedran said.

Gone are the days of women’s rights being treated as a standalone issue, McPhedran thinks.

“We’re going to start to see appointments, where there’s a much stronger alliance that has a ‘rights’ base,” she said.

“This will be a very significant shift.”

And Trudeau may have started that shift this week when he wrote to diplomats telling them Wednesday marked a “new era” for Canadian diplomacy.

Arms trade must be addressed

But the rookie prime minister, and his cabinet will have to tackle issues beyond gender, like Canada’s billion dollar arms trade, which peaked to record heights under the Harper government.

McPhedran said if Canada wants to wear the title of a peacekeeping country, this will be the new government’s biggest challenge.

And she has a point. How can Canada justify selling weapons to countries with gruesome human rights records like Saudi Arabia and Iraq?

“When you make an investment as a country in peace, you do it in a human rights framework,” McPhedran said.

“If we continue to sell arms that are being used to perpetuate atrocities within a whole range of different countries, then we as a country have to be held accountable for that.”

Like Trudeau said it’s 2015, so balancing gender in the House wasn’t hard.

What will be is the arms trade, and reversing this country’s shift from militarism to peacekeeping. If the new government can tackle that, it’ll have a ripple effect on human rights, and change how Canada is viewed internationally.