She once lived confidently and independently in her one-bedroom apartment but now Marie Whitford, 82, of Winnipeg, says she barely scrapes by on what little funds the province gives her.
“They said I’m not fit to handle my money,” said Whitford, who is originally from Skownan First Nation, Manitoba.
‘They’ are the Public Guardian and Trustee of Manitoba, a provincial government agency that is supposed to manage the affairs of people who are unwilling to do it themselves because of injury or other causes.
Whitford became a client of the agency after a fall from a dining room chair in September of last year that landed her in several Winnipeg hospitals.
She feels she is barely given enough to survive from the Trustee office and claims she was never given proper notice in the first place that she would be under their care.
(Marie Whitford, 82, of Winnipeg)
“My daughter phoned [and] she said, ‘Mom they’re going to look after your money now,‘” cried Whitford about the Trustee office.
Her daughter from the Pas, Manitoba was the first person from the Whitford family to inform Marie about the Trustee office taking over her affairs.
Wrong diagnosis, one night in a mental health ward
After Whitford first fell, a staff member at the retirement home immediately said she had double pneumonia, claims Whitford.
It’s a diagnosis that would surface in her medical files throughout her visits in the hospitals.
In November 2017, Whitford was admitted into Grace Hospital, Health Sciences Centre and Victoria Hospital, including having to spend Christmas day in a hospital.
She was eventually released on January 1.
“The time when I was over there [Victoria Hospital], they sent me to the ward where people aren’t well, ” said Whitford, referring to their mental health ward. She stayed there for one night, although she said she’s not sure why.
(Public Guardian and Trustee of Manitoba office in Winnipeg)
That’s when she recalls falling under the care of the Trustee office.
The Trustee office froze her bank account and took any remaining funds in her account.
Whitford does not recall signing any papers at any of the hospitals.
Kerri Ramson, with the Public Guardian and Trustee of Manitoba, stated during a phone interview with APTN Investigates that clients will receive notice and the only time when notice is not provided is when an application was submitted to the chief provincial psychiatrist on an emergency basis and there is evidence that there is an immediate danger of harm to the physical or mental well-being of an individual or concern regarding the dissipation of assets.
When an individual is in a hospital, Ramson stated generally it is a social worker or someone from the treatment team who would submit an application.
Barely surviving, donated underwear and socks
Prior to becoming a client under the Trustee office, Whitford was able to shop at Costco and fill her freezer, now she frequents Dollarama with her weekly allowance for food.
Whitford is given $125 every Friday for groceries, before that it was only $50 until her daughter complained to the Trustee office. The funds are directly withdrawn from a bank teller.
“I can’t use my bankcard,” said Whitford. Nor does she have extra money for social outings.
“I just live here and that’s it.”
Whitford is so strapped for money she needs to use dish detergent to wash her clothes and floor.
A close friend is stepping in to help whenever she can.
(Linda Patchinose, left, with Whitford in Winnipeg)
“She’s been wearing the same clothes since it got warm… because all her clothes are too big. She has nothing to wear,” said Linda Patchinose, a friend of Whitford’s for the past 35 years.
“I’ve been helping her with food and clothes. I had to give her underwear [and] socks.”
According to Whitford, if she wants summer clothing, there are steps she needs to do first for the Trustee office.
“They told me to go to Walmart and to write down the price of the pants and what it would cost me,” said Whitford. She would then have to take it down to the Trustee office to wait for approval.
Ramson said the Trustee office can only manage a client’s finances based on what their income is.
“If they’ve got a very limited income we have to budget based on what their income and expenses are,” said Ramson.
Treaty money taken by Trustee office
In early June, Whitford went down to the Forks in the morning for urban Treaty Days to collect her treaty money.
“I didn’t get my treaty money. She beat me to it,” said Whitford referring to the Trustee office.
After handing in her treaty card to the Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs representative, she was quickly told someone else had already withdrawn her money.
Whitford was expecting $15 since she didn’t claim her money for three years.
After confronting the Trustee office, an employee told Whitford to call the Crown-Indigenous Relations office to get her treaty money, claims Whitford.
APTN Investigates contacted the Trustee office to ask them why they would take a client’s treaty money.
“We can collect that fund, but sometimes it’s a minimal amount and there’s great pride taken to be able to collect it,” said Ramson.
Ramson said if it is important for that person to go and collect their treaty money personally, and they are able to do so, the Trustee office can arrange for that. She also said no one from her office would go to collect someone’s else treaty money directly.
“We would just have it paid for to our office,” said Ramson.
Whitford said the Crown-Indigenous Relations office will write her a cheque for the amount owing to her, but the cheque will be sent to the Trustee office beforehand.
In an email statement, the Crown-Indigenous Relations office wrote when a Public Trustee/Guardian is appointed as a representative to a dependent adult who falls under the Indian Act, treaty money will be proactively mailed out to the provincial authority.
Wants her freedom back
Recently Whitford contacted the Public Trustee office and inquired what she needs to do to no longer be a client.
Whitford said she would need to get approval from a doctor.
The Public Guardian and Trustee of Manitoba said the client would have to be assessed as mentally and capable of taking care of their own affairs by a medical doctor. The chief provincial psychiatrist would then be informed and terminate the Trustee’s authority.
“They’re giving me a hard time, I’m telling you, every time,” said Whitford.