Legislature security changes questioned over clarity
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Proposed new legislation is aimed at banning encampments and convoys at the provincial legislative grounds, as well as preventing destruction of statues and prohibiting weapons and fireworks on the property.
The Conservatives introduced a Prohibited Activities Regulation July 7 as part of proposed legislative security act amendments that are expected to come into effect after the legislature resumes in the fall.
Coming after a year of protests, blockades, convoys and demonstrations at the Broadway legislative building, the changes would make it illegal to camp out or park vehicles on the grounds. They prohibit setting up generators, tents or other shelters that make it possible to stay “in the legislative precinct for an extended period,” the regulation states.
On Canada Day 2021, activists toppled a statue of Queen Victoria in front of the legislative building. The new rules specifically ban property damage on the grounds.
They contain an exception that would allow any of the banned activities to occur with written permission from the chief legislative security officer. No details are included about the circumstances in which individuals or groups should be granted permission.
The rules as currently written could have unintended consequences and leave room for discrimination, said Manitoba Liberal party Leader Dougald Lamont.
“The concern here is whether we’re going to have double standards for protests,” he said, particularly considering the provision for granting permission is vague.
“On the one hand, having better regulation around what happens at the legislative grounds is vital because we’ve had some things that could’ve gone very, very badly in the last couple years. People could have gotten hurt. But the other is that there isn’t any oversight, there isn’t any way of deciding who these rules are going to apply to or not,” Lamont said.
On the legislative grounds Sunday, two encampments were set up.
On the east side of the building, Indigenous activists have kept a sacred fire lit for more than a year in recognition of the discovery of unmarked graves at Canadian residential schools. They are quietly demonstrating against genocide. The only sound coming from the small camp Sunday afternoon was a steady drum beat as an elder prayed. A man on site declined to comment to a reporter when asked what he thought about the new regulations, but he noted this is Treaty 1 land.
In front of the legislative building, a different group of protesters has assembled a giant teepee they claim calls for unity in the face of cultural and social division. They are often associated with the truckers’ convoy that took over the grounds earlier this year, but when speaking to a reporter Sunday, they said they reject the “bigot” label and want everyone to stand united.
Patrick Neilan, a former People’s Party of Canada candidate who said he was one of those sleeping on the grounds, said by imposing the new regulations, the province is “ignoring freedoms.” He said provincial laws do not apply; the group claims they are bound only by the will of the Creator and will not allow provincial rules to dictate when they leave the grounds.
“When you stand under the law of the land, that legal system doesn’t apply. They’re bullies,” said a protester who identified herself as Fire Tornado Buffalo.
Last winter’s “freedom convoy” of truckers protesting COVID-19 public-health restrictions blocked roads, which is already illegal, and created a “colossal inconvenience” that wasn’t taken seriously, Lamont said.
“With the convoy, people were given permission to do what they did… people were allowed to block the entrance to the legislature, they were allowed to block traffic,” he said.
Safety on the grounds is important, and peaceful protest is essential, Lamont said.
“We’ve been through a lot of tough times in this province, and I still don’t want to see the legislature and its grounds turned into a bunker. That is a concern of mine,” he said, saying politicians still need to hear “difficult truths.”
“That is essential; we have to preserve that.”
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.