At this time of year Sgt. Zak McDermot-Fouts would normally be getting ready for Remembrance Day at CFB Shilo.
Instead, the two-tour Afghanistan veteran is living in his garage with no plumbing or running water while his wife and four young children are staying with family an hour away, after their home was seized on Oct. 30.
His parade uniform was packed away by strangers into a shipping container.
It’s the culmination of a decade-long fight with the RM of Whitehead over building permits and what the RM says are “safety concerns” with the family’s 2017 mobile home.
McDermot-Fouts said head-butting with the RM started when he and his wife bought the 139-acre property in 2014. Council records show he appeared six times between 2014 and 2016 trying to get approval to build their dream home, and farm on the land, but were rejected.
They eventually decided to sidestep the wait and built a garage, moving a mobile home on the property.
“We’ve been put in this position because of the delays that (the RM) put on us,” McDermot-Fouts said. The couple had already put off starting a family because of the delays.
Frustrated with the red tape, the military sergeant decided to run for office in 2022.
” I felt that maybe I could make things better by getting in as reeve.” he said. “Show them what leadership looks like and serve the community.”
He lost by 45 votes.
The situation continued and the RM cited safety concerns with the couple’s home, including lack of a hand rail on outside steps and covers missing from some electrical outlets. Letters to the couple warned that the home could be taken.
“They said they would remove the house and tear down our garage,” McDermot-Fouts said. “We’ve been living here for nine and a half years. It’s not that I didn’t take it seriously because I definitely did take it seriously. I just thought it would never get to this point because even if you can do something, it doesn’t mean that you should.”
He was out of town with their six and five year olds on Oct. 30 when he got word that the municipality along with the RCMP and a moving company were on the way.
“I was actually nursing the baby,” says his wife Nicole McDermot-Fouts who was home with the couple’s toddler and infant. “Zak called me with the heads up and I guess they were already at the gates. And by the time I got off the phone with him, they were at the front door.”
She was escorted out and could only watch from her car with a screaming baby as their home was packed up and hauled off.
“One of the movers was saying ‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t know we were doing this,’” she said.
Her husband points to the storage container that sits eight metres from where their home used to.
“They dropped the (storage container) right here so they could just fill it up,” McDermot-Fouts,
The couple is being billed for the move — and the RM’s legal fees. Nearly $20,000 according to a bill sent to the couple. They also face a $40,000 fine each for bylaw infractions.
The situation has rattled many in the community, including neighbour Bernice Hiebert.
“There’s total shock,” she says. “We can’t believe that a house would be taken away from a family. Overreach I call it.”
She started a fundraiser for the couple who are heading to court in their next round of battle with the municipality.
No one from the municipality would consent to be interviewed, but Global News received a statement from their lawyer saying, “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.”
On Thursday as McDermot-Fouts rifled through unmarked boxes in the storage unit, he found his military uniforms.
“Maybe I can go to Remembrance Day now,” he said.
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.