Protestors call on mayor to make Winnipeg a sanctuary city


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There's a wall that stretches across Assiniboine River, interrupting the skating trail. It's pretty hard to miss. A bright safety-orange bar, glowing against the winter snow.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/02/2017 (2068 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There’s a wall that stretches across Assiniboine River, interrupting the skating trail. It’s pretty hard to miss. A bright safety-orange bar, glowing against the winter snow.

From far away, it looks garish and inpenetrable. Get closer, though, and you’ll see that the wall is made out of sunlight-catching transluencent strips. You can easily pass through it, or take shelter in the middle of it.

Make no mistake: this piece is political. Designed by Rotterdam-based artists Joyce de Grauw and Paul van den Berg as part of Warming Huts: An Art + Architecture Competition on Ice, it’s called Open Border.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Ethan Offman, age 9, pushes a kicksled through the Open Border warming hut, a wall made out of orange plastic strips hanging across the river trail along the Assiniboine River.

As laughing children skate back and forth through this open border under a brilliant blue sky on Friday afternoon, another conversation about borders is taking place not far away, at Portage and Main. Several dozen protestors have assembled for a peaceful demonstration, the first of two to be held on Friday, organized by a migrant justice group called No One is Illegal. Protestors here are denouncing U.S. president Donald Trump’s Muslim ban (because that’s what it is), as well as calling for Mayor Brian Bowman to formally designate Winnipeg a sancutary city. Sancutary cities are cities that protect undocumented residents.

Many protestors carry signs. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” reads one. “No Ban on Stolen Land,” reads another.

Leen, 11, is carrying a sign that says We Heart Muslims. The sentiment is underlined with five red hearts. She’s at the rally with a friend and some family members. While other kids her age are spending their day off from school skating at the Forks, she’s gearing up to speak at a rally.

Leen, who would not disclose her last name, was born in Canada. Her parents are immigrants. One is from Saudi Arabia, the other from Syria.

Even if she didn’t have the day off school, she’d be here. “I feel like even kids have a say about this — that means this is a big deal,” she tells me. “Everybody’s being affected. This could become bigger and bigger, that’s why we have to stop it at the core of the issue.”

John Woods / The Canadian Press People gathered on Friday, in downtown Winnipeg to encourage Mayor Brian Bowman to make Winnipeg a sanctuary city for undocumented migrants.

When it’s her turn to take the megaphone and address the crowd, her voice is fiery and passionate. She sounds a lot older than 11, a point that is not lost on Leen herself.

“I’m not supposed to be here,” she says. “Kids are not supposed to be worried. Nobody’s supposed to be. Conversations at school are becoming less fun and more serious. I wonder why? I think to myself sometimes, ‘Why am I worried? Isn’t that something a parent is supposed to do? Isn’t it something a leader is supposed to do?’

“Children are watching. They’re witnessing the horror that cannot be erased from their memories. Shocked and scared. Worried about their friends, family. That’s not supposed to happen.”

She’s right, of course. The children are watching. And every day seems to bring with it a fresh horror, such as a lone gunman walking into a Quebec mosque and killing six people assembled for evening prayer.

Over the past two weeks, children have also walked alongside their parents in marches and protests that have taken place all over the world. Two Saturdays ago, it was the Women’s March on Washington that filled the streets of cities across the globe. A week later, thousands gathered at airports to protest the “travel ban” targeting seven Muslim-majority countries.

And there have been many vigils, too. On Monday night, people gathered across the country to mourn the lives lost in the mosque shooting and to show solidarity with this country’s Muslim community.

Judging by the events of the last 14 days, it seems like 2017 is already shaping up to be the Year of the Protest, with people putting paint to cardboard and marching alongside their fellow community members. Activism seems like it’s moving offline and into the streets.

This is an illusion, of course. The fact is, protests — and vigils — have always been happening, whether they’ve had international news cameras trained on them or not. The most privileged among us might see the recent spate of global demonstrations as a trend. But others, for whom discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and violence is embedded in their daily lives, know better. They’ve been gathering, standing up and speaking out for a long time. They’ve been leading the resistance. Now, perhaps, more people are showing up to have their backs.

Over at the Forks, a diverse cross-section of people are enjoying the warm February sun in the heart of our city. May we all know sanctuaries like that.

Twitter: @JenZoratti

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Young tweens, Leen (left) and her friend Isra hold signs and speak out at ralliy Friday.
Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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