Mayor meets with Parker lands protesters
Brian Bowman hopes for a pause in clearcutting
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/07/2017 (2134 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
MAYOR Brian Bowman met with representatives of the Rooster Town Blockade on Monday to try to defuse the situation at the Parker Lands, a 42-acre ecosystem in Fort Garry where protesters have camped out and blocked clearcutting equipment since July 14.
“It was a very respectful meeting,” Bowman told the Free Press. “The purpose was primarily to listen to their concerns.”
Gem Equities Inc., the legal owners of the Parker Lands, began clearcutting the trees July 6, and since the protesters arrived, deforestation efforts have stopped. In 2009, Gem acquired the land — located near what was once a Métis settlement known as Rooster Town — in what many regard as a controversial land swap.
The protesters believe Indigenous people weren’t properly consulted when the land was given to Gem, and the group, including blockade leader Jenna Vandal, pledged to remain camped on the property until they were either arrested or a moratorium was placed on clearcutting. On Friday, Gem’s Andrew Marquess filed for financial compensation and a court-ordered eviction of the protesters, and several defendants, including Vandal and Parker Wetlands Conservation Committee chairman Cal Dueck, are set to go to court Wednesday.
“We’re hopeful the developer can pause cutting trees down until such time as the development plan is approved,” Bowman said after meeting with Vandal, Dueck and Coun. John Orlikow.
“We think right now it’s in everyone’s best interest to pause.”
The mayor’s office has reached out to Gem, but Bowman has not personally communicated with Marquess yet. So far, 14.8 acres of trees have been cut, although Bowman said the city has no legal rights to prevent any more tree removal; all that can be done is reach out to both the protesters and the development company to try to avoid further issues.
Bowman, regarded as Winnipeg’s first Métis mayor, said his own heritage didn’t influence his decision to meet with the protesters, saying “My obligation as mayor is to do what’s best for all citizens, regardless of their background.”
He did ask whether there was an Indigenous land claim made for the Parker lands, but Vandal said there hasn’t been yet. She said she’s researching the chain of ownership to see if an opportunity exists to successfully file one.
When it comes to the legal conflict, Bowman said the city won’t become involved.
“We’re not a party to it,” he said.
As of now, both Dueck and Vandal are still seeking legal representation for Wednesday’s court date.
“We don’t have the money (to afford lawyers) and Marquess knows it,” Dueck said after the suit was filed.
Dueck told the Free Press he was surprised to be included as a defendant in the case, saying neither he nor his committee are camping out on the property. Nonetheless, he hopes requests by the mayor and Orlikow are granted by Gem.
As of Monday, Bowman hadn’t heard back from Gem or Marquess, but maintained the best outcome for everyone involved is for clearcutting to be paused until the development plan is approved by the city.
“We’re hopeful (for a pause), but ultimately, it’s up to the developer,” he said.
— with files from Ryan Thorpe
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Tuesday, July 25, 2017 7:39 AM CDT: Adds photo