A petition to deem Winkler a "sanctuary city" by a group seeking exemption from COVID-19 health mandates was voted down unanimously at a council meeting Tuesday evening.
A proposal was presented to Winkler's city council by several speakers, including Karl Krebs. He collected what he said were thousands of signatures to deem Winkler a "sanctuary city" that limits co-operation with outside agencies.
"If we allow the current government to bully us and our fellow citizens with fear — creating havoc in businesses, churches, schools, families and everything else — we will quickly lose what our forefathers started when tasting newfound freedom," Krebs said at the meeting.
Krebs is part of a group named Things That Matter, which has, among other causes, petitioned against allowing vaccine clinics in schools and listed businesses that choose not to uphold public health orders in a private Facebook group that has nearly 2,000 members.
"We simply went to the people, and the people spoke. Now they’re asking for council to do for them what they can’t do for themselves," he said.
All seven members of Winkler council voted against the motion.
Mayor Martin Harder spoke passionately about his disappointment in the COVID-19 response from his constituents, who he said have let their differing views on the virus create divisions and vitriol within the community.
"What was to be a sanctuary has become a place of conflict and refusal to exercise grace towards others," he said.
Coun. Marvin Plett commended the group for providing a presentation but said the issue was "outside the scope of (council’s) authority" and could open the city to legal battles if passed.
"When I was sworn in as a councillor, I promised to make decisions, lawful decisions, in the best interests of Winkler citizens," he said. "I have personal opinions on this as well as many other decisions council deliberates."
Before the meeting, council sought advice on the legal implications should the motion pass, Harder said.
Winkler could become a ghost town "to resemble the Wild West in a classic John Wayne movie" should the motion pass, Coun. Michael Grenier said, adding he believed making Winkler a so-called sanctuary city would take leadership out of the hands of the municipality and lead to an "exodus" of businesses and residents.
"I wholeheartedly believe if I was to support this idea, I would be failing to uphold my oath and obligation as an elected city official," he said.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.