Weekend of protest looms

Protests against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions are expected to ramp up in Manitoba this weekend, in defiance of calls for demonstrations and a U.S. border blockade to end.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/02/2022 (231 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Protests against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions are expected to ramp up in Manitoba this weekend, in defiance of calls for demonstrations and a U.S. border blockade to end.

Events are due to take place across southern half of Manitoba — one day after Premier Heather Stefanson announced key public health restrictions will be scrapped in March, as the province’s pandemic response level is lowered to yellow from orange.

Protests threaten to disrupt traffic and cause delays around Winnipeg, Winkler, Morden and Selkirk. RCMP warn they will not tolerate any blocking of roads or highways leading to hospitals.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Omar Kinnarath, an organizer with Defend Winnipeg, a group that formed in opposition to the anti-mandate convoy.

A so-called “freedom convoy” camped across from the Manitoba Legislative Building since Feb. 4 is expecting dozens more supporters, including a group from Steinbach, to arrive Saturday as it plans a “family fun day.”

Organizers anticipate a “celebratory feel” following Stefanson’s announcement, but have no plans to go home, as they continue to demand Ottawa cancel its vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, among other things. (As of Jan. 22, the U.S. government requires all non-Americans crossing at land and ferry terminals — including long-haul truckers — to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and to provide proof.)

At noon, opponents are holding a counter protest at the same downtown Winnipeg site, raising concern the situation could escalate.

“We want to let them know they’re not welcome.”
– Omar Kinnarath

“We want to let them know they’re not welcome,” said Omar Kinnarath, an organizer with Defend Winnipeg, a group that formed in opposition to the convoy.

“We believe in freedom of protest, and we welcome anybody else wanting to come and protest,” Winnipeg Freedom Convoy co-organizer Zoey Jebb said in response. “We’re prepared to remain here as long as it takes.”

Convoy protester Doug Stern wasn’t declaring victory Friday, when he learned the province is accelerating the lifting of public health restrictions.

“They’re trying to make us go away,” the truck driver said.

Daniel Crump Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press The convoy encampment has been at the Manitoba legislature for over a week.

The Winnipeg Police Service said its plan for weekend demonstrations includes sending more officers to the streets in front of the legislative grounds to keep the peace.

“We ask everyone to be patient and respectful of each other,” WPS said in a statement.

Mayor Brian Bowman, who’s urged the protesters to leave, encouraged both sides to demonstrate peacefully. City council is considering seeking a court injunction.

Police are also expected at Polo Park shopping centre, which will be stormed by maskless protesters at noon, according to social media posts.

“They’re trying to make us go away.”
– Convoy protester Doug Stern

Security is being increased and management is working closely with city police, said a spokeswoman for mall owner Cadillac Fairview.

In Emerson, protesters in about 50 vehicles, including semi-trucks and farm tractors, are likely to continue a blockade of Manitoba’s main U.S. border crossing, which began early Thursday.

RCMP officers on site have been speaking to organizers.

“We will continue to use discretion to guide our response to this evolving situation,” RCMP Chief Supt. Rob Hill said in response to calls for the blockade to be cleared.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Polo Park mall is the target of a maskless protest planned for Saturday.

Dave Carlson, reeve of the Municipality of Emerson-Franklin, hopes the group will agree to open one lane.

“I’m hoping by (Manitoba) going to code yellow… they will see it as a victory and unblock,” he said.

Emergency vehicles and livestock trucks have been allowed to pass through.

Several convoys are due to roll along highways Saturday. A social media post encouraged supporters to meet in Winkler for a “slow roll” to Winnipeg.

RCMP will be stationed along Highway 3 to make sure people can get to the hospital between Winkler and Morden, a spokeswoman said.

“I’m hoping by (Manitoba) going to code yellow… they will see it as a victory and unblock.”
– Dave Carlson, reeve of the Municipality of Emerson-Franklin

Hospital-bound drivers should call 911 if they are blocked by protesters.

Southern Health urged protesters not to disrupt access to medical care.

Stefanson, who has been accused of failing to do enough to halt or discourage disruptive protests, said demonstrations outside hospitals and schools are not appropriate.

On Feb. 3, a slow-roll protest involving semi-trucks and farm tractors brought traffic to a crawl, preventing Morden resident Marlene Demke, 82, from getting to Boundary Trails emergency room quickly while she suffered chest pains.

A three-kilometre drive that normally takes a few minutes turned into a one-hour, 15-minute journey, said her brother, Terry Titchkosky, who drove her to the hospital.

“I’m not anti-protest, but I think we have to have protocols in place for holding demonstrations so they don’t risk the lives of others,” said Titchkosky, 74, who was unable to call 911 because he doesn’t have a cellphone.

Social media posts claim a convoy will twice circle the Perimeter Highway on the edge of Winnipeg on Saturday, and one will travel to Portage la Prairie from Brandon and back.

Convoys are also expected in the Selkirk area and at Deacon’s Corner in the Rural Municipality of Springfield, the RCMP said.

— with files from Carol Sanders

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching

CP A person speaks to truckers as they block highway 75 with heavy trucks and farm equipment and access to the Canada/US border crossing at Emerson, Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press The anti-mandate protest at the Manitoba legislature is expected to grow this weekend thanks to the arrival of protesters from Steinbach.
Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press A counter-protestor at the anti-mandate protest at the Manitoba legislature last Saturday.

Chris Kitching
Reporter

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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