Convoy reunion set for Winnipeg raises concern
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News the so-called freedom convoy, which shut down central Ottawa for three weeks earlier this year, is planning a national reunion in Winnipeg is “terrible,” says a young mom who lives next door to the Manitoba legislature.
“Oh, my lord,” said the woman, who had to endure a similar convoy that camped in front of the Manitoba legislature from Feb. 4 to 23. Semi tractors and large vehicles blasted their horns at all hours and kept people awake.
Demonstrators who opposed pandemic restrictions occupied Memorial Boulevard, which became a base for big rigs, RVs and buses that spewed exhaust fumes and blocked traffic. Some participants promoted conspiracy theories.
“I’m getting flashbacks,” the married mother of a preschooler, who asked not to have her name published for security reasons, said Tuesday.
The occupation only ended after police issued an ultimatum.
In recent days, Canada Unity organizer James Bauder, who was involved in the freedom convoy in Ottawa, and lesser-known protesters Colin Ross and Ron Clark, have announced on social media a cross-Canada convoy will meet in Winnipeg Feb. 17 to 20.
“This is going to be an amazing, beautiful journey,” Bauder, who is from Alberta, wrote in a post Sunday.
Bauder was arrested in Ottawa on Feb. 20, as police from across Canada removed protesters.
He was charged with mischief to obstruct property, disobeying a lawful court order and obstruct/resist a peace officer. Bauder was released on a promise to appear later in court, with conditions not to return to downtown Ottawa. However, that wasn’t listed as a reason for moving the rally reunion to Winnipeg.
“We chose Winnipeg because it’s the middle point of Canada,” said Ross.
“We’ll meet in the middle — in the heartbeat of Canada,” he said.
“Convoys from the north and south will be joining it,” Clark chimed in. “It’s going to be a beautiful thing to watch the world stand up together.”
It’s uncertain what they plan to stand up for, since public health restrictions and mask mandates disappeared months ago.
What they’re standing up for isn’t clear from their social media posts, or to those who may be impacted by it.
“What are you protesting?” asked the Winnipeg mother. “We’ve basically given up protecting our community against COVID,” she said.
She said she dreads a national gathering in Winnipeg that may be bigger, noisier and more menacing than last February’s occupation of Memorial Boulevard.
“It just makes me sad about humanity and our community and realizing people really are just out for themselves,” she said. “They don’t have a sense of what it means to be in a society and that we all have to do things to help each other.”
She doesn’t think the Progressive Conservative government or the police will take proactive steps to prevent another occupation of her neighbourhood.
“If these people were standing on Wellington Crescent and honking away or whatever they’re going to be doing, you can bet it wouldn’t last as long as it would if it was downtown.”
The Winnipeg Police Service said Tuesday it hadn’t had any discussions with any group regarding a freedom convoy reunion. On Wednesday morning, a spokesman added that the department is aware of the online dialogue from the group about the event.
“We are assessing that information but do not have any further comments to make at this time,” the spokesperson said.
Neither Justice Minster Kelvin Goertzen nor Premier Heather Stefanson responded to a request for comment Tuesday.
A government spokesman issued a statement that said officials are gathering information about the event.
“While Manitobans respect the right to peaceful and lawful protests, the rights of all citizens to live peacefully and travel without significant disruption needs to be respected and protected as well. Actions by those participating in this event that are not consistent with those principles would be referred to law enforcement,” the government spokesman wrote.
NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine said the PC government gave tacit approval for their return by not telling protesters to leave when they camped at the legislature and occupied Memorial Boulevard for much of February.
“Those folks felt welcomed by the premier’s lack of response or lack of action. And so why wouldn’t they come back?” Fontaine said Tuesday.
“This is a direct consequence of the lack of leadership and decisive action from the PC premier and her PC cabinet,” she said.
A person familiar with the convoy planners doubts the event will amount to much.
Freelance investigative reporter Justin Ling, who covered the protests in Ottawa in February, said he doesn’t think organizers can pull off a repeat of that scale in Winnipeg.
“I’ve seen very, very little evidence that the convoy to Winnipeg will be anything more than James Bauder and his wife in their Winnebago and a rump of supporters,” Ling said Tuesday.
“I don’t see other major groups getting behind them, or much grassroots enthusiasm,” said Ling.
— with files from The Canadian Press
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
Updated on Wednesday, December 28, 2022 12:01 PM CST: Adds updates comments from police