"This is probably the hardest day I've had as mayor," says Portage la Prairie Mayor Sharilyn Knox, "to be thinking that children in our community were harmed this way and knowing that there could be more."  

Knox says this has been heartbreaking for her as Mayor of Portage, and she wears her heart on her sleeve.

"My message is we all have to do our part for the safety of our children and our next generations. My other message is that the RCMP have done their job here and they're going to continue to do their job. It's the rest of our justice system that needs to hold these people accountable. That is what I'm going to be watching for as mayor.  We need to make sure that these people are held accountable for what they've done to these children in our community."

The Mayor answered questions at the news conference in Winnipeg Tuesday over the seven arrests made in a child sex ring in the community. She said we'll hear more over the next few days. With Portage being its size, Mayor Knox explains that many rumours spread quickly, but says this secures some of what's been happening although it has been devastating to hear.

"I think it's going to be quite a shock to many people in Portage la Prairie."

Doyle and KnoxCouncillor Colin Doyle and Mayor Sharilyn Knox

She notes she will be working with First Nations consultants on the issue. 

"Reconciliation and working with our First Nations is very important to our Council, and I can say every day we are discussing with them, so I know there'll be discussions on this as to how we can work together. But I think it's really about empowering the rest of our community to make sure that we're teaching our young children to feel their worth and to report things and to just make sure that the supports are there. What's interesting, and what I'm finding out in all of this, is that lots of signs are always there. It's just that we have to recognize them and we have to report them. That's from everybody in our frontline staff to just people in general. If you think there's something suspicious, make sure you're reporting it; it's the only way."

Knox says many of these occurrences stem from social media, and that's not the place to report them.

"You report them to the authorities and the RCMP because that's where we're going to get things done, and we need to do that. We need to protect our young people," adds Knox.

She says she's been in Portage for 12 years and nothing previously has occurred this large in the city during that time that she can recollect. 

"We're Portage la Prairie. I'll be honest about that. We always have things happening, I hate to say it. Something like this... I'm sure there have been some things as extensive in the past."

Knox notes that parents in our community need to ensure that they know what their children are doing and talk to them,

"There are so many safety measures out there as far as social media is concerned, but it's not just parents who need to help. We know that people in children's lives are mentors and support them. If you're teachers and if you're working with them in your settings, and working with them as medical professionals, any of those signs need to be reported. Also, the fact that there's someone else out there who has been traumatized, makes us realize that we want them to feel safe enough to come forward. If you have any suspicions of that, make sure you are reporting to the ICE (Internet Child Exploitation) line, but also hearing that there could be more victims out there; we want to be a trauma-informed community, and that means that we have to understand that these things happen. But we also have to have the necessities to deal with them."

She explains that the woman who has been arrested and preyed upon the young girls gives rise to the need for the city to understand how valuable support is for youth. 

"We actually have a pretty well-stocked community for support services. There are always more needed. We have the Tamarack Institute. We have drop-in centres and we have lots of different things going on. I think this will be a wake-up call for those types of agencies and services that we have to make sure we are looking for things and understanding what's going on, so that we recognize that when we're reporting. We're always looking to build up our services."

Knox notes the City is currently working with the province on a Community Safety and Well-being Plan.

"That's really assessing our community to find out where where we're at with community safety; what type of services do we have? Where are the gaps? This is just another wake-up call for us to really look at our community, but my message needs to be that there are 14,000 of us in this community, and we all have to play our part. We all have to make sure that we're protecting our young people and looking for signs. If you hear something, even if you think it's a rumour, report it. You might be concerned that something has been exaggerated in your mind, and maybe it's not. Don't hesitate to report it. Let the experts figure it out."

She says Portage is extremely grateful for its local RCMP, the ICE unit, and the special units with the RCMP.

"Somebody mentioned a long timeframe. It's not been a very long timeframe for an investigation like this, and to be able to lay these charges for seven different people, I think, is quite astounding in the work that they do."