Planned counter protest raises conflict concerns: mayor
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/02/2022 (303 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg’s mayor is trying to get ahead of a potential clash between the so-called “freedom convoy” demonstration and an opposing group that has issued a call to rally on the legislative grounds Saturday.
Mayor Brian Bowman fears the situation downtown could escalate, as the emotionally charged debate on COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions rages on.
“That is absolutely a concern of mine… What we don’t want to see is things escalate to what we’ve seen in Ottawa. I think the more that can happen by a number of stakeholders to assist with the compliance with local rules will go a long way to helping mitigate an escalation or an ongoing occupation of our public streets,” Bowman told the Free Press on Wednesday.
Anti-mandate protesters in Winnipeg appear to have settled in for the long haul.
On Feb. 4, big-rig cabs, campers, trucks and farm equipment were parked on Broadway and Memorial Boulevard in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building, in support of demonstrations in Ottawa and elsewhere. More participants are expected to arrive Saturday.
On Tuesday, the demonstrators asked for a plan with hard deadlines on the lifting of all public health pandemic mandates in the province, among other requests, in an unsigned open letter to Premier Heather Stefanson.
Meanwhile, downtown residents’ ears are ringing.
The counter protesters plan to gather at noon Saturday, behind the Broadway-side barricade.
Rally organizer Omar Kinnarath said area residents have been harassed and are fed up with the noise, criticizing police and other officials for inaction.
On Wednesday morning, the anti-mandate demonstrators issued a self-imposed code of conduct, saying they denounce hate, are respectful of the concerns of others and are also part of the community.
It included a plan to limit honking to two-minute bursts at the top of the hour between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., though “short intermittent honking is allowed.” On Wednesday morning, the horns still blared; by the afternoon, the noise had mostly subsided.
The anti-mandate side said it will respect the counter protesters’ right to express their opinions, asking both groups to maintain a reasonable distance.
Kinnarath said the counter protest won’t be violent — instead, it will be a show of “numbers and love.”
“This city’s fed up, this city’s about to take a stand… We need Winnipeg to show up in large numbers, because other than the big trucks, there’s at most on a weekday, a couple dozen of (anti-mandate demonstrators)… That’s not a big movement. You’ve seen Black Lives Matter rallies, you’ve seen Indigenous rallies… it’s not even comparable,” he said.
“We are an organized community. We are a community who stands up for each other, and we want to let them know that you really made the city upset with your actions in an attempt to gain support.”
Bowman called a special meeting of council, slated for Thursday morning, to put political pressure on the province and Winnipeg Police Service — which the mayor and other levels of government are not allowed to direct under provincial legislation.
“If the motion were approved in its current form, it would simply be asking that our provincial government, as well as the Winnipeg Police Service, consider doing all things reasonably necessary to help end the ongoing unlawful occupation of our public streets,” Bowman said.
On Wednesday, the Free Press observed one marked police cruiser on Broadway near Osborne Street North. An unmarked vehicle sat near Kennedy Street.
At the east-side cruiser, an officer waved at a vehicle driving by, adorned with flags, a smile on his face and mask on his chin.
The Winnipeg Police Board held a Wednesday meeting with Chief Danny Smyth to discuss concerns of residents, chairman Coun. Markus Chambers said, as well as some operational details.
Among them: the duration of the protest, “incessant noise” and “disregard to the infractions that are taking place,” specifically open fires and open liquor, Chambers said.
(Bowman noted parking, noise and the neighbourhood livability bylaws apply, but police take the lead on protests.)
The media and public weren’t privy to the meeting.
The board chairman said, from a public safety perspective, the WPS is doing everything in its power to keep the protest peaceful.
“There’s been no violence aside from the unfortunate incident that took place (Feb. 4),” he said, referring to a hit-and-run that injured four people.
On Feb. 5, a WPS spokesman said comments the accused made after his arrest suggested he did not drive into the crowd because of any of the underlying causes of the protest or public health mandates.
— with files from Joyanne Pursaga
Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.
Updated on Wednesday, February 9, 2022 9:18 PM CST: Removes duplicated word
Updated on Thursday, February 10, 2022 6:52 AM CST: Adds "files" to cutline
Updated on Thursday, February 10, 2022 8:08 AM CST: Fixes date reference to hit-and-run to Feb. from Jan.