Protest camp at Manitoba Legislative Assembly removed by provincial staff, minister says
WINNIPEG – An Indigenous-led protest camp on the east lawn of the grounds of the Manitoba Legislative Building that had been in place for more than a year was removed over the weekend.
Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said in a statement posted on Facebook that illegal structures were demolished on Saturday in an operation « led by provincial law enforcement personnel. »
The Winnipeg Police Service says it was not involved in the removal and none of its officers were present.
The camp began with a ceremonial fire which was lit after the announcement in May 2021 that what is believed to be 215 unmarked children’s graves were discovered near a former boarding school in Kamloops, B.C. .
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said in a statement that protesters have pledged to stay until all bodies of undiscovered children at residential schools across Canada are found and brought home.
Deputy Grand Chief Cornell McLean said in the statement that it was disturbing to learn that the province had bulldozers on site, handcuffing and arresting seniors and handing out $672 bills.
« Everyone has the right to peacefully protest and publicly express their frustration at the continued ignorance of First Nations people in this province and across the country, » McLean said.
“This early morning raid on camp sends a threatening message to all First Nations that Manitoba does not support our rights to criticize the government and peacefully voice our concerns.
Another separate camp on the Legislature’s North Lawn was dismantled by police in early October. This camp was adorned with signs and flags highlighting a variety of issues, from the discovery of unmarked graves at boarding schools to COVID-19 restrictions to conflict in the Middle East.
Several people have been arrested in connection with the north camp and police say they recovered axes, body armor, a spear, machete and a metre-long club, although protesters said it there were no weapons on site and that they only had material to chop. wood and build tepees.
Goertzen says the legislature should always be a place for the expression of democratic opinions, but the safety of visitors, including schoolchildren, staff, elected officials and protesters, must be protected.
“Permanent structures and unauthorized encampments are neither legal nor safe on legislature grounds. This was seen by the significant security issues that have arisen over the past few months in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly,” Goertzen said in his statement Saturday.
The Progressive Conservative government passed legislation earlier this year that bans camping on Legislative grounds and prohibits people from providing generators, firewood and other goods.
People who break the rules can be kicked off the field and face fines of up to $5,000.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says the province created the law in response to last winter’s Freedom Convoy, but only used it to evict peaceful First Nations protesters.
“The Manitoba government continues to evict First Nations people from our unceded territory and does so while announcing its ‘work of reconciliation’. This kind of doublespeak is very concerning,” McLean said.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 23, 2022.
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