Interview – Manitoba Woman Speaks Out

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Manitoba Woman Speaks Out:
"My family and I were bullied, intimidated, and assaulted by Manitoba Hydro employees"

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Last month you wrote a letter to the President and CEO of Manitoba Hydro, Mr. Kelvin Shepherd in which you give a very personal account of the bullying and intimidation tactics of Manitoba Hydro with respect to the BiPole III project. Could you please summarize what happened?
Heidi: During the demonstration at my family farm there were three incidents that occurred during which my family and I were bullied, intimidated, and assaulted by Manitoba Hydro employees and I felt the CEO of Hydro needed to know about them. The first incident happened while I was walking on the municipal road as part of the demonstration. One of the Manitoba Hydro security guards stepped towards me, grabbed my arm, and attempted to restrain me. I was shocked and scared by his aggressive behaviour and felt very uncomfortable in his presence after this incident. I made sure that I was out of his reach and never alone at the site after that. The second incident happened to my parents when two Hydro trucks (side by side) started backing up towards their car, threatening them to move, and only stopping a mere foot or so from their car’s front bumper. The third incident happened to my brother when Hydro employees called a concrete truck to the site (despite the demonstration), and had the truck drive right up to the site where my brother and another demonstrator were standing, putting their lives and safety at risk. The road conditions that day were icy and the driver blasted the horn, stopping only a few metres from where they were standing. Within seconds, the Hydro site supervisor stalked up to my brother and angrily threatened him with a lawsuit. I think it’s really important for Manitobans to know that throughout the entire demonstration the RCMP was aware of all of our actions; we were never told we had to leave our posts or move our vehicles. Hydro employees had no right to physically stop me, to recklessly intimidate my parents to move their car, or to threaten my brother with a lawsuit.

Did you receive any reply from Mr. Kelvin Shepherd or from the members of the Legislature and the member of the R.C.M.P. who were copied on this letter? If so, what do you think about the response?
Heidi: I received two very positive responses about my letter – one from Jürgen Kohler, chair of MBLC and the other from Blaine Pederson, MLA for Midland. They both expressed support of my decision to address the bullying and harassment head-on with the CEO of Manitoba Hydro; their support was very encouraging during this difficult ordeal. I also received a reply from Mr. Shepherd. Frankly, his response felt very dismissive and condescending. I was very disappointed that he did not seem to take my concerns seriously, so I sent him another letter stating how disappointed I was with his response. In this letter I reiterated that the actions of his [MB Hydro] employees during the demonstration were both dangerous and unacceptable. I remain disappointed that Mr. Shepherd feels he can dismiss or minimize reports of his employees assaulting, bullying, harassing, and threatening landowners.

Why is Manitoba Hydro treating landowners so aggressively? What are they trying to achieve?
Heidi: It is actually really hard to understand what is happening here. Former Manitoba Hydro employees, former politicians, and multiple experts have all spoken about their concerns over the “preferred route” that was ultimately chosen [for the BiPole III project]. Nonetheless, the government pushed the project forward and then set to the task of securing the land needed for the project. Landowners were given two tough choices: sign a less-than-desirable easement agreement or be expropriated. Manitoba Hydro employees pushed and pushed their way into landowners’ lives and wore many of them down, scaring them with expropriation tactics and other threats. The landowners who have refused to sign the easement agreements are fighting for their right to negotiate fair compensation. Many Manitobans do not understand the clauses that Manitoba Hydro included with the easement "agreement"; Hydro has essentially passed on liability of the towers to the landowners and ensured that through signing the easement agreement, landowners give up their right to ever speak out or challenge the work or actions of Manitoba Hydro. My understanding is that Manitoba Hydro has been given direction by the government to move ahead with this project at all costs. I am sure that most Manitobans would be shocked to learn that this support from government has meant that Hydro employees think they can intimidate, bully, and assault landowners along the way. The push from the NDP government to move this project forward has been at the expense of the safety and well-being of landowners and their families.

What do you hope to achieve as a result of your efforts? If you had one message for your fellow citizens voting on April 19th, what would it be?
Heidi: Before casting their vote, I would like Manitobans to check out the website StopHydroBullies.ca and consider signing the petition requesting that Manitoba Hydro negotiate with landowners. The website provides a lot of information about this issue as well as links to many more news articles explaining the multitude of issues with Hydro with which landowners have had to contend.

I know that what Manitoba Hydro is doing to landowners is very, very wrong. The personal and property rights of Manitobans should not be violated by a Government Crown Corporation. The personal safety and well-being of Manitobans should never be put at risk by the actions of Manitoba Hydro employees. By speaking out and telling my story, I want more Manitobans to learn about the bullying, harassment, and intimidation that landowners are experiencing from Manitoba Hydro employees.

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