Occupiers can’t say they weren’t warned Province, law enforcement may have no choice but to remove legislature encampments by force
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/08/2022 (288 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If the handful of people occupying the grounds of the Manitoba legislature continue to flout the law by ignoring a recent eviction notice, they can’t say they weren’t warned if security officials are forced to dismantle the camps. That could be coming as early as next week.
One encampment on the east side of the building has been in place for well over a year. It’s a sprawling mess of tents and other structures, surrounded by piled-up garbage and other debris. There are propane tanks visible, open fires and wooden pallets strewn about. The encampment has been sparsely populated most days, often with no one there at all during the harsh weeks of winter. Multiple sources have confirmed there are non-firearm weapons on site, including knives and axes. Assaults have been reported and physical threats have been made to security staff. It’s hazardous and it’s unsafe.
More recently, a separate group of occupiers has set up shop on the north side of the building. The encampment includes a large tipi, a tent and an open fire.
Last month, the provincial government approved new regulations that, among other things, prohibit people from setting up tents or other shelters, lighting open fires or parking vehicles on unpaved areas, or in places that impede the normal flow of traffic. The new law has been on the books for six weeks, giving everyone plenty of time to comply. On Wednesday, both encampments were served with notices under the Legislative Security Act to clear out by Aug. 23.
Setting up encampments around the grounds of the legislature is not new.
Until recently, there were no clear laws prohibiting people from occupying the grounds of the legislature. Many groups have done so over the years, including across the street in Memorial Park, which is part of the legislature’s precinct. But it’s happening more frequently; the camps are getting larger and people are staying longer. With no washroom facilities, running water or garbage pickup, they are unsanitary and unsafe.
Having large tents around the legislature, capable of concealling any manner of illegal and/or dangerous material, compromises the security of the seat of government. It’s not safe for the people there, or for those who work in the building or visit the area.
The new regulations, which came into effect July 7, were drafted mostly in response to the three-week “freedom convoy” occupation of Memorial Boulevard in February. But they were long overdue to address a problem that has been growing for years.
The question now is: will those still occupying the grounds of the legislature comply with the law and move out, now that they’ve been served with evictions notices? So far, they’re not budging. Some have said they have no plans to leave. Security and other government officials have been in regular contact with them, sources have told the Free Press. They’ve been told repeatedly that time is running out.
The hope is that through reasonable discussions and negotiations, the occupiers will see the light of day, realize they’ve made their point and clear out. There are many effective and legal ways to protest against government action or inaction, including holding rallies on the front steps of the legislature (which is not only legal, but encouraged). There is no need to set up encampments around the legislature to achieve that goal. In fact, they become pointless after awhile.
If the occupiers don’t leave, at some point force may have to be used to enforce the law. It would be a last resort nobody wants, particularly law enforcement, who will likely exhaust every diplomatic option available before using force. However, if left with no other avenue, security officials may have to issue arrests and physically dismantle the encampments.
It’s a no-win situation for Manitoba Justice, which has jurisdiction over the grounds of the legislature, and for police, who could get called in if things go sideways. They can’t allow people to ignore the law indefinitely. Yet if they use force, they may be criticized for being too militant. They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The best thing for everyone is to wind down the encampments peacefully. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.