Two men have been charged with numerous sexual offences following an extensive investigation into reports of alleged sexual and physical abuse in a northern Manitoba First Nation, RCMP announced Thursday.
Over the course of an 11-month investigation police say they have identified 17 victims in the community of Garden Hill First Nation, approximately 475 km northeast of Winnipeg.
Supt. Michael Koppang of the RCMP calls the alleged offences a “tragedy that has and will deeply affect the community of Garden Hill.”
Between December 2017 and June 2018 police received three reports of alleged child sexual assault in the community.
Following the investigation, police identified 17 children, both male and female, between the ages of three and 15 who were victims of sexual and or physical abuse, Koppang said.
Paul Bruce Harper, 21, has been charged with multiple sexual offences including sexual assault, sexual interference and aggravated assault.
Paul Bruce Harper has been charged with multiple sex offences.
He was first charged in February 2018.
“During the course of the investigation…it was learned that this accused had access to a residence that was a foster home for numerous children in the community,” said Koppang.
Police say more than 150 children were identified as having contact with Harper.
Child abuse investigators from the RCMP or Child and Family Services interviewed the children. Additionally, a number of these youths were interviewed by experts at a resource centre for children and youth.
A second male was also arrested and charged with multiple sexual offences in September 2018.
The now 20-year-old cannot be named because he was a youth at the time of the alleged offences.
Lucy Harper, 66, was the foster mother in the home police believe Paul Harper had access to. She was charged in September 2018 with perjury as well as under the Child and Family Service Act for failure to report a child in need of protection and failure to provide for a child in need of protection.
Police would not confirm the relationship between the two accused.
A spokesperson for the province would not confirm how long Ms. Harper was a foster parent, but police say she is no longer in that position.
The offences took place between 2011 and 2017, according to police.
Koppang credits the community with supporting the investigation.
“Police rely on cooperation with the community. We don’t do this by ourselves…trust is everything,” he said.
Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba First Nations and Grand Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the group representing northern Manitoba First Nations, say support is essential for survivors.
“It’s not their fault that this happened,” said Dumas.
“I hope that they don’t take any blame or that they feel that anything they had done facilitated whatever may have happened to them.”
Settee is urging all levels of government to work together to ensure supports are available to “protect them from future harm.”
Families Minister Heather Stefanson calls the allegations “horrific”.
She says RCMP notified her of the investigation on Wednesday and since it’s still on-going her department is taking it “one step at a time.”
“We need to allow the investigative process to take place. I certainly thing it would be inappropriate for myself or anyone to intervene,” she told reporters.
RCMP are urging other potential victims to come forward.