Officials prep for convoy protest outside legislature

Winnipeg police and Manitoba legislature security are bracing for big, loud trouble as anti-vaccine mandate demonstrators carried by a fleet of farm equipment and semis seek to descend on the capital city.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/02/2022 (239 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg police and Manitoba legislature security are bracing for big, loud trouble as anti-vaccine mandate demonstrators carried by a fleet of farm equipment and semis seek to descend on the capital city.

Supporters of the so-called “freedom convoy” that’s forced Ottawa’s downtown to close for nearly a week and driven area residents to despair are expected to roll into Winnipeg at 9 a.m. Friday, parking at the legislature in the heart of densely populated neighbourhoods.

The Winnipeg Police Service advised people to avoid the downtown area, as the demonstration is expected to create “significant traffic congestion.”

The gathering is being co-ordinated to support protests occurring in Ottawa and other jurisdictions. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The gathering is being co-ordinated to support protests occurring in Ottawa and other jurisdictions, the WPS said in a news release Thursday.

Police are working with the organizers “to facilitate a peaceful event which respects their right to protest, while ensuring public safety,” the release said. Police are expecting the convoy to remain “for some time.”

The Manitoba convoy organizers have called on those opposed to vaccination requirements to drive their big rigs and farm equipment to the legislature. The social media notice asked for “continuous volunteer help and people to provide food as we carry on in Winnipeg.”

The social media notice asked for “continuous volunteer help and people to provide food as we carry on in Winnipeg.”

Following recent “slow roll” convoys to the U.S.-Canada border at Emerson, organizer Rick Wall said — after a lot of discussion and prayer — members decided to “re-strategize.”

They’re joining forces with another group opposed to vaccine requirements and will settle in at the capital, the Winkler-based trucking firm president said on social media.

“The message is clear: we do not move until all mandates are lifted,” Wall’s notice said. “Let’s take our momentum straight to where the decisions are made!”

The legislature’s decision makers, however, likely won’t be there. The house hasn’t been in session since December, and won’t resume sitting until March.

“The message is clear: we do not move until all mandates are lifted.”
– organizer Rick Wall

“It is difficult to predict the scale or duration of the protest,” a memo issued by the clerk of the executive council and the clerk of the legislative assembly said Thursday.

“Accessing or exiting the grounds, surrounding streets, and parking lots may become impeded or impossible,” it said. “In (these) circumstances, we strongly encourage building occupants to work remotely on Friday.”

The chairman of the Winnipeg Police Board applauded protest organizers for reaching out to city police with their plan in advance. However, Coun. Markus Chambers said he hopes it doesn’t turn into an “occupation,” like the one in Ottawa.

Coun. Markus Chambers said he hopes the convoy doesn’t turn into an occupation, like the one in Ottawa. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“Everyone has the right to protest,” the city councillor said Thursday in an interview. “It’s part of the democratic process to demonstrate. But we also have to ensure that we are still able to conduct business in our city.”

Peaceful protesters are not the concern, he added.

“It’s the fringe element that wants to torque the messaging and torque the situation for their own agenda — that’s the piece that no police service or agency can plan for,” Chambers said. “To the extent of whether it will happen or won’t happen — just be prepared either way.”

City motorists can help by avoiding the area, including Broadway — an artery that serves emergency vehicles going to Health Sciences Centre and St. Boniface Hospital.

City motorists can help by avoiding the area, including Broadway– an artery that serves emergency vehicles going to Health Sciences Centre and St. Boniface Hospital.

“We’ve got to make sure our emergency vehicles have access to these centres,” Chambers said.

The St. Norbert-Seine River councillor said he hopes Winnipeg’s protest is peaceful. Obnoxious protesters and blaring truck horns have “overstayed their welcome” in Ottawa and drowned out their own message, he added.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson was asked at a news conference Wednesday about a potential convoy descending on Winnipeg.

Premier Heather Stephanson says the the federal government didn't offer truckers a testing option. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“Obviously, we want to ensure that everyone is safe,” she said. The premier thanked truckers for their efforts in getting vital goods to Manitobans, despite the challenges of COVID-19 and supply chain disruptions.

“They’ve allowed us to live through this pandemic.”

Stefanson also noted when Manitoba imposed vaccine mandates, it offered COVID-19 testing as an option; whereas, for truckers, the federal government did not.

Now, a few of those truckers, and others opposed to getting vaccinated for COVID-19, plan to roost outside her place of work.

A Progressive Conservative party caucus spokesman said: “No members are planning to attend, to anyone’s knowledge… Our caucus respects the right to peaceful protest and has no further comment at this time.”

For those living and working near the Manitoba legislature, should Friday’s protest settle in, an Ottawa security expert has some advice: “Practice yoga for your nerves and get some earplugs.”

Expect a noisy protest, an Ottawa security expert says. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Pierre-Yves Bourduas runs his own safety consulting firm. The best thing people can do is avoid a volatile situation, he said. If it’s where they live and work, they need to protect their nerves, he added.

Bourduas said almost every Canadian has a relative they’re at odds with over vaccine mandates, and knows how tense and emotional those fractured relationships can be. Now, imagine that volatility concentrated in a large crowd, said the president of PY Safety.

“It is a powder keg,” Bourduas said. “All you need with a powder keg is a spark.”

There is not a lot law enforcement agencies can do, other than try and prevent the spark, he said. “When you have emotions that are raw, it becomes explosive.”

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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Updated on Thursday, February 3, 2022 8:06 PM CST: Adds quote from PC caucus spokesman

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