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Proposed class action lawsuit seeks $5 billion in compensation from the feds for St. Theresa Point housing conditions


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The head of a remote First Nation in northern Manitoba is proposing a national class action lawsuit against the federal government for failing to address the housing crisis on reservations.

Chief Elvin Flett of the St. Theresa Point First Nation is seeking $5 billion in compensation, as well as an order that the federal government meet its obligation to provide adequate housing in First Nations.

“Most of the houses on the reservation are falling apart and many are infested with mold and other toxins. Our homelessness on the reservation forces generation after generation to crowd under the same roof,” Flett told reporters Monday.

“It’s about broken promises, including treaties, and the Crown’s honor to act and the many promises made to our people.”

Flett, on behalf of himself and his community, and his legal team at the Toronto-based firm McCarthy Tetrault LLP, filed a statement of claim in Federal Court on Monday. The complaint names the Attorney General of Canada as the defendant.

In a written statement sent to CBC News on Monday night, a spokesperson for Indigenous Services of Canada (ISC) said the ISC was aware of the First Nation press conference and “will continue to work with the First Nation of St. Theresa Point and all First Nations communities, to address and improve housing conditions on the reservation.”

The lawsuit statement alleges that Canada has “deliberately funded housing on reserves,” while also isolating First Nations by placing restrictions on their ability to provide housing for themselves.

“The resulting catastrophe for the First Nations and its members was not only predictable, but was the outcome intended by the defendant,” the statement states.

Chief Elvin Flett of the St. Theresa Point First Nation is shown in a file photo. He says the homes in his community are so overcrowded that it’s not uncommon for families of 12 to live under one roof. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

St. Theresa Point is one of four First Nations that make up the Island Lake region of northeast Manitoba. The community of 5,200 people is accessible by plane or ice road for six weeks a year.

About 467 families in the community need housing, Flett said.

There are approximately 646 homes on St. Theresa Point with 25 percent condemnable due to severe decay and decay, Flett added. Others require major repairs with an average cost of $55,000 to $86,000.

The community received federal funding last year for 20 two-bedroom units.

“It’s just a dent in what [St. Theresa Point] needs. It doesn’t keep up with the decline of its home, let alone the growth of its population,” said Michael Rosenberg, the community’s attorney. “The First Nation, like so many others across the country, is falling further and further behind. “

First Nations harbor a ‘blemish on conscience’: AMC

Flett said some of his community members and others from First Nations across the country are living in unimaginable conditions not seen anywhere else.

It is not uncommon for families of 12 to live under one roof. In one case at St. Theresa Point, 32 people live in a four-bedroom house. Leaders have heard of members sleeping in shifts while other families resort to “more substandard housing” such as living in school buses, shacks, tents and makeshift cabins.

The state of First Nations housing has repercussions on mental and physical health, Flett said. Members live with ailments that leaders say are related to toxins in the home, while overcrowding affects youth and adolescents who often lack access to personal space.

Grand Chief Cathy Merrick, of the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs, said First Nations housing has been a “stain on the conscience of [communities] for too much time.”

“First Nations people in Manitoba and across Canada have endured overcrowded, dilapidated and substandard housing, undermining their health and well-being.”

A woman sitting in front of the microphones.
Cathy Merrick, Grand Chief of the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs, is shown speaking to the media in April. She calls housing in First Nations communities “overcrowded, dilapidated and substandard.” (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Rosenberg said the proposed compensation would address inadequate housing in communities and those who have been injured by their living conditions.

“It’s important to recognize that no class action lawsuit will solve all housing problems,” he added.

The proposed class action lawsuit is directed at the most extreme housing emergencies in First Nations. Rosenberg said that communities where at least half the population resides in homes with a deficit of two or more bedrooms and in need of major repairs may be eligible to register.

The community and Flett are inviting other First Nations to join the lawsuit.

“Together we must demand the housing we deserve…Together we can create a safer, healthier future for First Nations across Canada.”

The Assembly of First Nations estimates that more than 600 First Nations across Canada would be eligible to join the claim, according to Manitoba Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse, adding that “very, very few” are satisfied with their home.

A judge must certify the class action before it can proceed.

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