‘Freedom’ protesters settling in at legislature Portable toilets, firewood supply suggest demonstrators not planning exit any time soon
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/02/2022 (240 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The portable toilets have arrived and cords of firewood have been stockpiled, signalling protesters opposing COVID-19 public-health measures are shoring up for an extended stay outside the Manitoba Legislative Building.
On Monday afternoon, protesters supporting the “Standing 4 Freedom” demonstrations stacked a massive load of donated wood on the median of Memorial Boulevard, where people — some draped in Canadian flags — gathered around fire pits for warmth.
Big-rig cabs continued to line the boulevard where kids played street hockey and others served up food from makeshift kitchens while smoke and diesel exhaust fumes wafted into the downtown Winnipeg air, punctuated by blasting truck air horns.
Organizers of the local demonstration previously told the Free Press the group intends to occupy the streets outside the legislature until all COVID-19 restrictions and mandates are lifted.
Free Press attempts to speak directly with protest organizers, who have established their headquarters in a camper on Memorial Boulevard, were rebuffed Monday. Four days into the protest, organizer Rick Wall said by email that the group was still working on a statement for the media.
The protest slowing traffic on Broadway is not affecting the functions of government at the Manitoba legislature.
The house isn’t sitting right now. It rose on Dec. 2 and elected members aren’t back in session until March 2. Any government or ministerial staffers who can work remotely have been asked to do so. Clerks, custodians, members of the press and protective services branch in charge of security continue to go about their business at the Legislative Building.
Government house leader Kelvin Goertzen said the protests outside aren’t impacting the functioning of government, including meetings of cabinet and caucus.
“Government continues to function without interruption,” Goertzen told the Free Press Monday. “Security for everyone in the building has been reviewed and is being taken seriously. Over the last two years cabinet and caucus have been mixed in-person and virtual, and this continues.”
The demonstration’s footprint continued to grow on Monday as York Avenue was blocked to motorists heading east from Osborne Street to Memorial Boulevard Monday morning by a Bulldog Demolition pickup truck and semi-trailer and a rig belonging to a Wiebe Family Farms of Manitou.
At mid-morning, an exasperated motorist trying to navigate the blocked roads was seen travelling in the wrong direction on York Avenue, and driving up onto the sidewalk to get around the Bulldog Demolition truck to turn right onto Osborne Street.
Transit riders heading to work downtown from south Winnipeg via Osborne Street were also delayed by the closure that forced buses to take a detour.
Portable toilets were also placed at the intersections of Broadway and Memorial and York and Memorial.
King’s Services owner Steven Moon said his business was paid to provide the portable toilets for the demonstration and has not provided any free services to the group.
Moon said the contract for the service was open-ended. He emphasized that his company is a neutral party providing a service.
“We’re just doing the business that we’ve been contracted to do,” he said. “We’re not supporting anything. We just rent the toilets. That’s our job.”
He said renters are responsible for securing permits for the toilets when they are placed on public property.
“If it’s in a spot where the government says it can’t be, we’ll go pick it up,” he said.
A spokesperson for the provincial government said no permits have been issued for portable toilets to be placed at Memorial Park. The City of Winnipeg did not respond by deadline.
Winnipeg Police Const. Rob Carver said officers have not issued any tickets related to the protest to date and more information on complaints, incidents and police enforcement of bylaws would be provided on Tuesday. Police anticipate York Avenue to be open to traffic Tuesday morning, the WPS said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, elected officials representing downtown Winnipeg decried reported incidents of “targeted harassment, including homophobia, racism and gender-based harassment,” in an open letter issued Monday afternoon.
“As downtown political representatives we must underline the public safety failures of laws that are not being respected and not recognizing the impacts of their actions on those living in close proximity,” Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort-Rouge-East Fort Garry), Union Station MLA Uzoma Asagwara and Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan said in a joint statement.
“Area residents have the right to live in their homes without being harmed, or to go get groceries without the fear of being targeted.”
Without addressing any specific agency or government, the trio called for immediate action to be taken to address the persistent noise and street-level harassment.
Rachel Erickson is used to protests at the legislature next door to her apartment, where she’s lived for the last six years. There have been many, especially since the start of the pandemic. What’s different this time is the protesters won’t say when they plan to leave and don’t care how neighbours are being affected, she said.
“It’s quite oppressive,” said Erickson, a new mom.
She said the police aren’t charging any of the vehicles blocking traffic and no one in authority appears to be standing up to the protesters.
“There’s really no limits on what they seem to be allowed to do. I wouldn’t be allowed to walk around downtown playing my trumpet all day, really loud. Eventually someone would say, ‘please stop,’” said Erickson, who first heard the big rigs honking Friday morning before 6 a.m., which is when the protest began.
“It’s just so difficult that nobody’s doing that. Their right to protest is trumping all of these thousands of people’s right to live peacefully in their own homes.”
Erickson, who lives beside the legislature with her husband and one-year-old baby, said the horn blasts carried on until about 10 p.m. through the weekend.
“I haven’t really been walking outside very much, just because you don’t really want to be part of it,” she continued, adding she doesn’t feel safe around the big trucks and protesters, some of whom shout profanity and Bible verses at passersby.
“It doesn’t make the neighbourhood a comfortable place to be, which normally it is.”
— With files from Carol Sanders
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.
Updated on Monday, February 7, 2022 9:42 PM CST: Fixes typo.