Two men from Garden Hill First Nation have been arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual assault and sexual interference after a joint investigation by RCMP and Child and Family Services identified 17 children aged three to 15 who were victims of sexual and physical abuse.
Twenty-two-year old Paul Bruce Harper is charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, sexual interference, assault and aggravated assault while a 20-year-old male, who cannot be named because he was under 18 at the time of the alleged offences and is charged under the terms of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, faces multiple counts of sexual assault, sexual interference, assault, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. Both men remain in custody.
The 11-month investigation began in December 2017 when the Island Lake RCMP detachment received three reports of sexual assaults on children in Garden Hill First Nation. Investigation of those incidents led to Harper being arrested and charged in February 2018. Police learned that he had access to a foster home for numerous children in Garden Hill and the joint investigation with CFS began.
"These allegations were very serious and as the investigation continued, we became increasingly concerned that there was a potential for more victims due to the number of children who were in the care of this foster home throughout the years," said Supt. Michael Koppang, officer in charge of major crime services for the Manitoba RCMP, in a press release.
More than 150 children were identified as having had contact with Harper between 2011 and 2017, and 17 of them, male and female, have beenidentified as victims of sexual or physical abuse during that time period.
The 20-year-old was arrested and charged in September and November of 2018 and April 2019.
The foster mother, 66-year-old Lucy Harper, was arrested in September 2018 and charged with perjury and two counts of failing to report a child in need of protection and failing to provide for a child in need of protection under the Child and Family Service Act. She was released on her own recognizance with court-ordered conditions and is no longer a foster parent.
"We recognize the possibility that there may be more children who have been victimized and are urging them to come forward and to speak with our investigators," said Koppang. “We recognize that calling the police is an extremely difficult step to take but I want to assure anyone who is thinking of coming forward that our officers are professional and compassionate and will work with victims to explain every step of the process.”
Island Lake RCMP investigators can be reached at 204-456-2290 and the RCMP has also partnered with Klinic Community Health, which can accept reports from sexual assault survivors 16 years or older anywhere in Manitoba at 1-888-292-7565. People who contact Klinic can remain anonymous and work with counsellors to decide what to do next.
The investigation continues and RCMP say they are releasing Paul Harper’s photo in an effort to aid the investigation and identify any additional victims.