A long and ugly battle over a rural Manitoba property came to a dramatic head last month, when a municipality moved in, seized an Afghanistan veteran’s mobile home and drove it off his property, leaving him and his family homeless weeks before Christmas.
Canadian Forces Sgt. Zak McDermot-Fouts, who served two tours in Afghanistan during his 19 years of service, says he purchased a 139-acre property in the RM of Whitehead near Brandon, back in 2014, but since making the purchase claims the RM and successive councils have been doing everything in their power to delay and deny him and his wife from building their “dream home” and family farm there.
McDermot-Fouts claims that after already purchasing the property, the RM told him they did not want to hand over many of the needed permits because of concerns that the land was “flood prone” and not safe for a residential building.
But he claims there was zero flooding on the property the last two times there were major flooding events in the community, and that over the almost 10 years he has lived there, he has never had any flooding.
When McDermot-Fouts and his wife realized back in 2014 how hard it was going to be to get the home and farm built, but also how big of a financial hit they would take if they sold the property, they vowed to stay put.
“We weren’t going to leave then, and we aren’t going to leave now,” he said.
The couple dug in their heels, spending more than two years on the property living in an older mobile home heated with a wood-burning stove and powered with a generator, while they lived without electricity plumbing, or even basic sewage.
He said after living with no electricity for more than two years, his wife got pregnant with their first child, and he went back and asked the RM when he could get electricity, but continued to struggle to receive permits.
Over time, without the proper permits in place, the couple, who are now parents to four young children, has built a garage, and, in 2017, set up a brand new modular home on the site to live in.
“It was never about me not believing we needed building permits,” McDermot-Fouts said. “I’m not in any way opposed to getting permits, the issue is we were forced to go ahead without them because for years we were denied and ignored.”
He said in the last few months they had been receiving letters threatening that the house could be confiscated citing concerns including a lack of a hand rail on outside steps, and covers missing from electrical outlets.
On Oct. 30, while he was out of town travelling home from Alberta with two of his four children, and his wife was home with the other two kids, McDermot-Fouts said he got a call from a RCMP officer letting him know RCMP officers, peace officers and a moving company were moving in to seize the home at the direction of the municipality.
He says officers demanded to be let in the house which “terrified” his wife who said she was breast feeding when officers showed up.
“They just basically showed up while my wife was home and I wasn’t there and took over like a SWAT team,” he said
“They brought a moving company, told my wife she had to take the kids and leave, and started packing up the house.”
Hours after officers showed up, McDermot-Fouts said his wife sat in a car with their two youngest kids and watched her home be removed from the lot.
The couple is also being billed for moving fees and RM legal fees, and has already received a bill for approximately $20,000, and could face other additional hefty fines for bylaw infractions.
McDermot-Fouts says he is now temporarily living in a heated garage on the property, while his wife and kids are staying with relatives, but after all that has happened, he says he and his wife are still vowing they will never give up on the property.
“We will never leave,” he said.
Bernice Hiebert, a neighbour of the couple is trying to rally support for the McDermot-Fouts family, as she has started a GoFundMe page to help them financially, and as of Saturday afternoon donations were more than $15,000 towards the $50.000 goal.
“I’m on their side 100%, I think this is extreme overreach,” Hiebert said. “You don’t just show up and take people’s homes away.
“Fining people is one thing, but taking someone’s home is going too far.”
In a statement sent to the Winnipeg Sun, the RM of Whitehead said “the Municipality has attempted to work with the property owners regarding ongoing by-law contraventions on their property. The municipal by-law contraventions created safety concerns that were not remedied by the property owners.
“Throughout the enforcement proceedings, the property owners were provided appropriate notice and all procedures were followed. Following denial of the property owner’s appeal to Council, the Municipality took enforcement proceedings in accordance with The Municipal Act, The Planning Act, bylaws and policies, to remove the unpermitted structure.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Nov 25, 2023 at 18:59