Horns echoed through downtown Winnipeg as protesters against COVID-19 restrictions settled in Friday evening, after a day of raucous, but restrained demonstrations outside the Manitoba Legislative Building.

Horns echoed through downtown Winnipeg as protesters against COVID-19 restrictions settled in Friday evening, after a day of raucous, but restrained demonstrations outside the Manitoba Legislative Building.

In the morning, more than a dozen semi-trailer cabs converged on Broadway at Memorial Boulevard to support the so-called "freedom convoy" protest underway in Ottawa and other communities across Canada.

By mid-afternoon, the protest grew to include about 70 vehicles, including cars and some farm tractors, with as many as 400 people gathered on the boulevards at one point.

<p>The WPS is advising drivers to avoid the downtown area because the protest is expected to cause significant traffic congestion. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

The WPS is advising drivers to avoid the downtown area because the protest is expected to cause significant traffic congestion. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Organizer Rick Wall said the group is prepared for a long-haul occupation of streets outside the provincial seat of government. Wall is the president of Winkler-based company Richland Transport.

"We plan on being here tomorrow and the day after and so on, until we see mandates are lifted," Wall said in an email to the Free Press, adding he expects the protest to be conducted peacefully.

As of Friday afternoon, there were no incidents or altercations to report, Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth said at a news conference with Mayor Brian Bowman.

Smyth said the service is in regular communication with rally organizers, who have so far been co-operative. He described the demand on police resources as modest.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Winnipeg Police Chief, Danny Smyth.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Police Chief, Danny Smyth.

Police have allowed demonstrators to stage their vehicles — many adorned with protest signs and slogans — on Memorial Boulevard while traffic, including vehicles participating in the protest, continues to flow on Broadway.

Emergency response times have not been impacted, officials said.

Two trucks with massive Canadian and American flags and signs that read "Mandate freedom" blocked vehicle access to the legislative grounds, which was already restricted by concrete barriers put in place by the province.

Organizers have not told the city how long they intend to stay, Smyth said.

"I can’t speculate on what’s going to happen in the future," the police chief said. "We’ll just play it as it comes."

Reaction to “freedom convoy” protest rolls in…

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said local demonstrations are unlikely to change the City of Winnipeg’s current COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

“Obviously, we want to see a demonstration of patience and kindness with each other right now,” Bowman said Friday. “I think the message of freedom is one that has been answered. People do have the freedom to get their vaccine or not, there are consequences of course with that, most notably to one’s health.”

Bowman said he expects governments to make decisions on public health based on expert advice grounded in science. “I’ll continue to support decisions that are made on the basis of the advice from health-care professionals.”

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said local demonstrations are unlikely change the City of Winnipeg’s current COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

“Obviously, we want to see a demonstration of patience and kindness with each other right now,” Bowman said Friday. “I think the message of freedom is one that has been answered. People do have the freedom to get their vaccine or not, there are consequences of course with that, most notably to one’s health.”

Bowman said he expects governments to make decisions on public health based on expert advice grounded in science. “I’ll continue to support decisions that are made on the basis of the advice from health-care professionals.”

***

Premier Heather Stefanson encouraged Manitobans to be respectful and kind to one another during “this difficult time.”

“Our government respects the right to a peaceful protest. However, protesters must also respect the rights of others, too,” Stefanson said. “I have been in constant communication with mayor Bowman, City of Winnipeg and provincial officials to ensure the safety and security of those living, working and moving about the area.”

***

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas called on the premier to respond in a manner that respects the right to protest with the “ongoing need to make informed decisions based on science for the collective health of all people living in Manitoba.”

“Here in Winnipeg today, trucks and protesters are blockading downtown streets,” Dumas said in a statement. “It was only a year ago that the provincial government tried passing Bill 57 that would have made it illegal for First Nations to block provincial highways.”

Bowman said he spoke Friday with Premier Heather Stefanson about the "need for calm" and to ensure lines of communication are open between the provincial and municipal governments.

"I don’t think anyone wants to see what has happened in Ottawa," Bowman said.

The national capital’s downtown was brought to a standstill when protesters descended on Parliament Hill a week ago, causing major headaches for area businesses and residents.

"What we just don’t want to see is prolonged disruptions to our residents who live downtown, local businesses that have been temporarily affected, so hopefully the disruptions will be minimal and short lived," he said.

Christopher Siemens arrived at the demonstration in a rig hauling bales of straw painted with the message: "My rights don’t end where your fear begins."

Siemens, who said he is vaccinated, said the requirements for cross-border transportation has impacted the ability of his Morris-area hay and straw operation to send product south to the U.S., where most of his customers reside.

"We need all mandates lifted, but what lit the fire is the inability for some of our drivers to cross… and we need to be able to have free trade across the border for just about everything," he said. "For the last two years, we’ve had no trouble crossing the border."

As of Jan. 22, the U.S. government requires all non-Americans crossing via land ports of entry and ferry terminals to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and provide related proof of vaccination.

<p>Protesters block the entrance to the Manitoba Legislative building on Broadway Avenue and have parked their trucks along Memorial early Friday morning. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Protesters block the entrance to the Manitoba Legislative building on Broadway Avenue and have parked their trucks along Memorial early Friday morning. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Siemens expressed frustration at the state of the health-care system and said he will continue to protest outside of the legislature until restrictions are lifted or until he needs to return to his business.

At the corner of Broadway and Kennedy, Kris Lapointe held up a towel with Canada and U.S. flags intertwined she bought at Walmart following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

"We stand for what’s right, what’s legal and for our freedoms," the WPS civil service retiree said above the din of big-rig horn blasts. "That’s all we want: less government interference and let us get on with our lives."

Lapointe blames Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and provincial leaders for botching the pandemic response.

"You’ve ruined the economy, you’ve ruined people’s mental health, people have lost their jobs, their businesses," she said. Unless Canadians take a stand now, "we will never recover."

The government has failed to do what the majority of Canadians want and it’s time for a federal election, she said, even though one was just held in fall 2021. "Let’s have another one and let the real truth be known."

MP Falk touts virus misinformation

<p>FRED CHARTRAND / CANADIAN PRESS FILES						</p>																	<p>Provencher MP Ted Falk spoke virtually Friday, appearing on a screen in the House of Commons, outside of which a truckers convoy had been parked for seven days.						</p>

FRED CHARTRAND / CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Provencher MP Ted Falk spoke virtually Friday, appearing on a screen in the House of Commons, outside of which a truckers convoy had been parked for seven days.

Posted: 6:27 PM Feb. 4, 2022

OTTAWA — Provencher MP Ted Falk is accused of trumpeting COVID-19 vaccine misinformation just as his Manitoba colleagues in the House of Commons urge the anti-mandate truckers convoy to roll away from Parliament Hill.

Falk, who has represented southeastern Manitoba for the Conservatives since 2013, drew scorn from fellow MPs Friday when he read a letter from an unvaccinated constituent whose trucking business had taken a hit from the U.S. requirement to get immunized.

Read Full Story

The Winnipeg resident said she’ll be back at the protest every day it lasts, as long as there are vaccine mandates.

Her friend, Joan Nielsen, thinks the protests could end sooner if the prime minister treats them with respect.

"It will be over as soon as Mr. Trudeau comes out of his office and apologizes," said Nielsen, wearing a giant red heart Valentine’s Day decoration.

Calling "taxpayers and Canadian people who just want to get back to work racists, homophobes and xenophobes is unacceptable," the retiree said.

Meanwhile, a small group of sign-waving, mask-wearing counter-protesters danced and shouted slogans while one in a grim reaper costume on top of a snowbank held a placard that read: "Get vaccinated. I need a vacation."

Neighbourhood resident Lee Gaylene, 80, braved the bitter cold with her walker to oppose the protest, calling it ill-informed.

"If you have a different opinion or political stance than I do, fine, but get your facts straight," she said. "I’m saddened because most of these people have no clue what they’re actually protesting about.

"Nobody has said you have to get a needle in your arm; there’s no law that says that. It says if you want to go to the States and drive a truck over there, you need to be vaccinated, because the Americans aren’t going to let you in otherwise."

Gaylene said she was bothered by images of protesters in Ottawa bearing Nazi flags but hadn’t seen any symbols of hate in the first half-hour of her lone vigil. She was, however, offended by anti-Trudeau flags — not because of the expletive but because it misplaces the blame.

"The mandates to go into a restaurant are provincial," she said of public health restrictions requiring proof of vaccination. "Trudeau has nothing to do with the medical directives in each province — they’re protesting Trudeau and they have no clue. That’s what’s bugging me."

Despite the trucks’ presence, traffic was moving in both directions on Broadway, albeit slowly during rush hour. At least one area business decided to keep its doors closed Friday.

<p>Trucks parked on Broadway as part of the protest. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Trucks parked on Broadway as part of the protest. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Oh Doughnuts shuttered its shop on Broadway, explaining its decision Thursday on Twitter: "Due to the misguided protest planned… we are being cautious and closing our Broadway location. We’ll be making extra at Taylor (Avenue)… Thanks to all those ‘freedom fighters’ for making everything worse for small businesses."

Asked about the impact on area businesses, the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone issued a statement Friday, saying it’s likely not helping.

"Downtown businesses have been struggling to make ends meet for nearly two years. Any new reason that keeps people out of downtown makes it even more difficult," it said.

At a nearby Subway restaurant, business was booming at lunch time, with a lineup of maskless customers inside waiting to use the washroom and order food.

Cornie Teichroeb of Altona said he was turned away from the Tim Hortons across the street because he didn’t want to wear a mask.

"I’m for freedom," said the man who was in Winnipeg to attend the protest with his teenage children.

Teichroeb said he’s not opposed to the vaccine and is vaccinated, but has seen the toll restrictions have taken on people he cares about with medical issues, like asthma, for whom wearing masks is difficult.

The manager of the nearby Tim Hortons said there were no issues or concerns to report related to the protest and staff have been enforcing indoor mask requirements.

While some people coming into the restaurant without face coverings would leave when reminded to put on a mask, others accepted the free masks provided by staff, she said.

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.