Protestors maintaining presence near the Legislature

Police may have forced protesters out of an encampment in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building this week, but some of those protesters say they don’t have plans to go very far, and in some cases, that’s because they have nowhere else to go.

The Winnipeg Sun spoke to a woman Thursday morning who claimed she was one of the people forced out of an encampment by police on the north side of the Manitoba Legislative Building grounds this week. She agreed to have her picture taken and to be quoted, but did not want her name published.

The woman said she and another man, who were in a car parked on Kennedy Street right next to the Legislative Building on Thursday morning, now plan to live in that car in that spot at least for now, and that there were others who planned to do the same thing on Kennedy, just feet from the Legislative Building.

“We’re staying here, where else would we go? We live in our car,” the woman said. “And there will be a few of us that stay here.”

The woman and man in the vehicle, who both didn’t want their names published, said they had been living on and off at the encampment that had been running on the north side of the building for months, but as of Thursday were living in their vehicle, after police moved in Wednesday, evicted those living at the encampment, and began tearing it down.

When asked why they had been living at the encampment they both cited myriad of reasons and causes including the Every Child Matters movement, but also their own anti-vaccination and anti-public health order views.

“We stand for freedom, we stand for peace, and these people want war,” the woman said while pointing out of the car towards the Manitoba Legislative Building.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Winnipeg Police (WPS) Supt. David Dalal said part of the reasoning for the police moving people out this week was because recently there were reasons to believe the encampment could pose a threat to the safety of those inside and outside of the building.

“What we saw was an erosion of cooperation and an increase in both rhetoric and aggression, and a complete unwillingness to be reasonable about restricting expansion around the camp,” Dalal said.

Police originally moved into the encampment on Tuesday to stop people who were trying to expand the camp by bringing new materials in and then police moved in Wednesday and cleared out the encampment.

And in total 12 people were arrested on Tuesday and Wednesday at the site of the encampment on charges ranging from obstructing a police officer, to occupying a tent or portable structure in the Legislature area.

A chain-link fence now surrounds where the encampment once stood, and several police officers were seen monitoring the area on Thursday morning.

WPS said in their press release that while dismantling the encampment they seized items including body armour, axes, a hammer, a hatchet, a nearly metre-long club, a spear, and a machete, but that no weapons charges were laid because the items were not being carried, and were found inside of structures at the camp.

The government passed a law in the spring that forbids encampments on the legislature grounds and bans people from supplying generators, firewood, and other goods to encampments, and people who violate those rules can be evicted from the grounds, and face fines of up to $5,000.

But longtime advocate for the homeless in Winnipeg Al Wiebe said he wonders if dismantling the encampment is just a short-term fix for something that requires long-term solutions.

“A camp was removed from the Legislative grounds, but to where?” Wiebe said in a Wednesday Facebook post.

“Was there an exit strategy? Did the authorities and those who issued the orders to remove them have housing for them to go to?

“It would have been nice but I don’t think that was the case.”

As of Thursday, another separate encampment remained on the east side of the Manitoba Legislative Building, and organizers with that encampment told the Winnipeg Sun on Thursday morning they had no plans to leave, despite the arrests and the dismantling of the camp on the north side this week.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun