Housing Services hosts evacuees

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Evacuees in residence. (Jacey Bells)

U of R steps up to host people fleeing Ontario wildfires

The University of Regina has been hosting evacuees from the Pikangikum First Nation in northern Ontario since their community was ravaged by the threat of a fireIn a July 6 release, local Liberal MP and Minister of Public Safety said that a request had been received for federal support in terms of the evacuation of those affected.  

“I received a request this morning from the Province of Ontario regarding the serious threat of wildfires and heavy smoke across the region of Northwestern Ontario, putting multiple First Nations communities at risk. On behalf of the Government of Canada, the Honourable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, and I, have accepted their formal request for federal assistance to provide immediate evacuation resources to the affected communities. This request from the province includes the deployment of Canadian Armed Forces personnel and transportation support required for the evacuation of members from the community of Pikangikum First Nation to a designated host community.” 

Those host communities include multiple locations in Saskatchewan, including Regina as well as Thunder Bay, Ontario; and Cochrane, Ontario. 

The first mention by university administration to the entire student body of the fly-in community members was in a July 19 email from Dave Button, Vice President (Administration). The email’s sole focus was on security concerns related to the presences of the evacuees and made few mentions of those affected or their concerns. 

“As many of you are aware, the University of Regina, in support of the Canadian Red Cross, has agreed to host approximately 420 evacuees from Northern Ontario who have been forced to leave their homes due to the threat of forest fires. Many of the evacuees are families with small children who are now housed in the Paskāw, Wakpá, and Kīšik Towers as well as College West.  

“Due to the increased volume of visitors on campus, and to address some concerns over safety, the University has taken a number of steps to ensure the campus community remains safe. Campus Security has contracted external security to assist. Additionally, Emergency Social Services, the Red Cross, and Regina Police Service are working to manage incidents as they arise. Additional custodial staff as well as volunteers are also on hand to assist with cleaning outdoor and general areas on campus.” 

‘If members of the campus community have concerns or witness an incident, please contact Campus Security at 306-585-4999.” 

“The University is pleased to be able to assist in a time of such need. Many units have been working extremely hard to accommodate our unexpected guests and make activities and some facilities available to our guests.” 

“Thank you for your patience as the University works to ensure services on campus are not disrupted. We know that members of our campus community are doing everything in their power to engage with our visitors and make them feel welcome during what is obviously a difficult time.” 

These events included culturally appropriate gatherings at First Nations University of CanadaVolunteers from the Ministry of Social Services were also available to support.  

As reported by CBC on July 15, a number of arrests were made with allegations of violence made against a number of evacuees. This is not the only concern facing those who have been evacuated. In Ontario, one evacuee, Kelsey Strang, recently died after being struck by a car. 

A second email was sent to the campus community on July 19, again from high-level administration, thanking campus for their support of the evacuees.  

“The University of Regina continues to host evacuees from Northern Ontario who were forced to leave their homes over a week ago, due to wildfires threatening their community. 

The fire situation improved significantly over the past week, allowing approximately 120 evacuees to return home on Tuesday and Wednesday. Assuming weather and fire conditions remain favourable, and flights become available, we are anticipating the majority of evacuees will make their way home this weekend. We will likely still have a number of guests with us come Monday however, and we ask for your continued patience and understanding as we keep working to make them feel as comfortable and as welcome as possible. 

The University is proud of how our faculty, staff and students have stepped-up to support members of the Pikangikum First Nation during this difficult time. We also appreciate the efforts of our partner agencies, and look forward to continuing our ongoing relationship with the Red Cross. 

No representatives for Campus Security, First Nations’ University of Canada, or Housing Services were available to comment for this story.  

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