Residents worry Winnipeg police may be tuning out protest noise complaints, area councillor says
Convoy protest co-organizer insists they are co-operating, but not in cahoots
A Winnipeg city councillor says the residents of her ward want to know why their complaints to police about the noise from a days-long protest against vaccine and mask mandates don't seem to be registering.
Coun. Sherri Rollins represents Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry, where protesters calling themselves the "Freedom Convoy" have occupied streets around the Manitoba legislature since Friday.
She says she has received countless emails, phone calls and messages from residents, mostly about the noise from a loud train whistle and honking horns, but also about alleged incidents of harassment by protesters.
"I along with other councillors are hearing that when residents call the non-emergency line to report noise violations and more, that they are not able to even report them, that sometimes are being hung up on," Rollins told CBC News on Wednesday evening.
Additionally, Rollins says residents in her ward have also been redirected to Mayor Brian Bowman's office, asked if they've read the latest police release on the protest and "sarcastically asked if they are meaning to incite violence."
She says she's looking forward to raising residents' concerns at Thursday's special meeting of council, which was called by Bowman in response to what he has called "an unlawful occupation of our public streets."
Rollins, who is the chairperson of the protection, community services and parks standing policy committee, doesn't like the perception that police are not neutral.
"Residents unfortunately are hearing in communications that have not been corrected by the police is that they somehow feel that they've somehow negotiated [with protesters]," she added.
"And so residents are asking really important questions about whether or not the police are being misled by them, especially when they see communications from police that say that they've brokered deals. And they have questions about what these deals are."
A motion is expected to be brought forward Thursday that requests an immediate compliance with all applicable laws, including those related to traffic and noise bylaws.
The motion also calls on the province and Winnipeg police to do all things reasonably necessary to implement laws pertaining to the city's noise, traffic and livability bylaws.
Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River), who is also the Winnipeg Police Board chair, had a meeting of his own with Chief Danny Smyth on Wednesday.
"It's being perceived by some citizens that there is favouritism of this group and those are the questions that we had to bring forward to the chief," Chambers said.
Chambers, who is concerned the motion may be seen as politicians telling police what to do, says Smyth told him the most pressing priority is safety.
But issuing tickets or making arrests could torque the situation and make it much worse, Chambers added.
"One of the messages that I heard from Ottawa is that we're not going to arrest our way out of this, that it does have to come down to dialogue, does have to come down to communication, respectful as much as possible, recognizing how passionate people are about this, this issue," he said.
CBC asked the police and their union to respond to the criticism that they aren't doing enough. The union has not answered and the Winnipeg Police Service denied the request.
Protesters co-operating with WPS: co-organizer
Caleb Brown, one of the co-organizers of the Winnipeg convoy protest said reports that police are unified with protestors are inaccurate.
"It has been a good working relationship. They have their job," he said. "They don't necessarily agree with everything that we're saying but we are co-operating."
Brown says the convoy simply wants to communicate with elected officials.
According to Brown, only one side of the story is being told. But he expressed optimism that dialogue will begin shortly.
"We are here peacefully and lawfully. We don't want to disrupt citizens of Winnipeg. We're not trying to hurt businesses," Brown said. "We know it's been a hard time for everyone, so we are trying to mitigate that as much as we can."
In an effort to curb reports of excessive honking, the convoy updated its code of conduct Wednesday. It now says honking is only permitted for two minutes at the top of every hour between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., as well as "short intermittent honking."
Brown says he has an easy solution to concerns related to the honking.
"I think we could stop all the noise if officials would talk to us," he said.
We all appreciate nice vehicles, but there are some vehicles on our roadways that emit more noise than others. That noise can carry for quite distance impacting neighbourhoods. We're asking motorists to mindful of their surroundings & respectful of the community. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WPSTraffic?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WPSTraffic</a> <a href="https://t.co/S1JONLVTEl">pic.twitter.com/S1JONLVTEl</a>—@wpgpolice
Brown says organizers have already removed a few protesters from Memorial Boulevard, between York Avenue and Broadway, for violating the updated code.
He didn't elaborate on the reason, but said it was tied to "aggressive messaging."
Chambers said for the most part the protest has been peaceful, but recognized people being affected by protesters.
"It's a tough situation," he said. "This is the cost of freedom sometimes, but recognizing we do want to resolve this as quickly and peacefully as possible."
Stefanson needs to use 'megaphone': Kinew
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the province has more tools at its disposal to bring about an end to the protest.
"I think a very important step that the province hasn't taken is for the premier just to use the megaphone that she has. When the premier of Manitoba says something, people listen. They may not always agree, but people listen," Kinew said.
"And what we need Premier Heather Stefanson to do right now is to tell the folks that make up the convoy that, 'It's time to go home. And hey, on your way home, you should stop and get vaccinated.'"
A spokesperson for the premier later issued a statement, saying senior government officials have been in regular contact with city officials, with the goal of protecting those in the area of the protests.
With files from Marina von Stackelberg, Jérémie Bergeron and Erin Brohman