Government security officers begin dismantling camps
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/03/2022 (452 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba security officers moved in with bulldozers and began tearing down two camps near the legislature Wednesday; one set up by protesters over COVID-19 restrictions and the other by Indigenous keepers of a “sacred fire.”
Around 7 a.m., Conservation officers drove up in trucks and hauled away hockey nets, tables and other equipment from Memorial Park across from the legislature. Temporary shelters, including two teepees, were taken down.
One of the protest organizers said they had been warned about the action in a letter delivered on Monday.
“Manitoba Conservation served (a letter) to us, just basically informing us that everything had to be removed,” Caleb Brown said Wednesday.
The protest started out much larger in early February, when trucks and farm vehicles blocked Broadway and blared their horns, and hundreds of supporters stood along sidewalks. The protesters called for an end to pandemic restrictions, including indoor mask mandates and a requirement to be vaccinated to attend most public venues.
After the province announced it would lift restrictions, the protesters stayed to fight other rules such as the federal government’s requirement to be vaccinated in order to travel by air or rail.
Three weeks after the protest started, many of the protesters left after receiving an ultimatum from police to stop blocking traffic, while a small number — about 20, although it varied from day to day — moved into the park.
Security also swept into a camp on the east lawn of the legislature that was set up last summer after the discovery of potential unmarked graves at former residential schools last summer.
The province said it took action because the groups were living in the public spaces and had to move out.
“As a democratic society, we respect lawful protests and have seen thousands take up their cause on the grounds, however building structures and damaging public space is not acceptable and will be addressed by the appropriate authorities,” read a prepared statement from the office of Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen.
Shawna Peloquin, one of the Indigenous fire-keepers who tended the sacred fire, said she received a letter from the province on Feb. 1, in which it ordered the group to remove storage structures within five days. Peloquin said she refused because they stored sacred items.
Security officers dismantled parts of the camp, throwing items into a truck, as two security guards stood watch.
“They started tearing down the tent we were using as storage, and they tore down the kitchen our elder built this summer,” she said.
Peloquin said she jumped into the tent to prevent security from destroying it.
“They had to scream and stop their tractor,” she said. “It’s disgusting. I feel pretty sad for them actually… these people are paid to create violence like that. It’s not OK.”
Clothing, medicine, musical instruments, kitchen tools and other supplies were dumped into large garbage containers on the legislature grounds.
Government Services Minister Reg Helwer later told reporters legislative staff checked on the camp on the east lawn daily and no one was there.
“At that time, we decided that obviously the camp is abandoned, and it’s time to remove it from the legislative grounds,” he said.
Melahat Paul, another fire keeper, claimed a security guard restrained her when she tried to enter the camp Wednesday.
“I had to push by them, and they were physically trying to stop me. One of them told the other that he actually can’t do that — he can’t force me — then he let off,” Paul said.
A teepee and small tents remained. Neither Paul nor Peloquin knew whether crews would be back to remove the rest.
Peloquin said the group would rebuild the camp.
“This is to honour the children. Our focus is to reclaim our culture and to have that safe and healing space. It’s always been clear this is not a protest,” she said.
Paul added: “We’re trying to keep our culture alive. They can’t silence us.”
NDP Leader Wab Kinew was asked to comment on the removal of the protests.
“I’m not saying that the government has to do everything that a protester comes here to the (legislature) to advocate on, but they should listen. So we have seen them listen to one group, but what about the other group? What is being done to search the unmarked graves and former residential school sites?”
Back at Memorial Park, Brown vowed his group would continue the protest in some fashion.
“I don’t think anyone intends on leaving, per se,” Brown said.
“I mean, it’s a Manitoba winter, it’s still cold out, so there is the issue of shelter. So I mean, those are questions that have to be answered.”
A small group of about five people, who said they weren’t convoy protesters, remained at the site.
Jerome Desilets, who said he’s Métis, said his protest centres on Indigenous rights — but mask and vaccination mandates imposed on Indigenous people factored into his decision to demonstrate.
“The fact that the government thinks they can put in mandates is the issue,” he said.
Desilets said his group doesn’t recognize the government’s authority to move them away from the park.
“This is all stolen land. You guys just moved in and said it’s mine. Well, that’s not the law. There were laws here before they got here, and we’re going back to that,” he said.
— with files from The Canadian Press
Updated on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 5:40 PM CST: Photos added.
Updated on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 10:27 PM CST: Fixes typo.