Developer takes legal action to remove protesters from Parker Lands
Demonstrators remain defiant in the face of lawsuit, potential court order to leave
The developer looking to build homes and apartment buildings on the Parker Lands has launched a lawsuit and injunction against protesters occupying land around equipment at the site.
All tree-clearing work on the site near Waverley Street and Hurst Way came to a stop July 14 when more than a dozen protesters set up camp, blocking access to mulching equipment.
Since then, up to 50 demonstrators have come in and out of the camp, bringing food, water, posters and other supplies, organizers say. Their mission is preventing more trees from becoming wood chips.
"Gem Equities wants to clear all these beautiful trees here for some type of development, condos or whatever," said protestor, Melissa Ray. "This is disputed Metis land, this is Native land, this is not to be messed with."
Contractors for Gem Equities have already cut down about 15 acres of aspen forest, according to Parker Lands advocacy group Rooster Town Blockade, a name that comes from a former Metis settlement which once existed in the area.
The group Parker Wetlands Conservation Committee said a total of 42 acres will be affected by the housing development when its completed.
The two plaintiffs, both numbered companies with connections to developer Gem Equities, accuse the protesters of trespassing and delaying work necessary to begin construction on the land.
They will argue for the injunction next Wednesday. If granted, it could mean protesters who refuse to leave face the possibility of being arrested.
For demonstrators like Tyler McKinney, the lawsuit and injunction motion are mere pieces of paper.
McKinney, a young Anishinaabe man who walked to the camp from his home in the North End, said it made him angry when he saw how much of the forest had already been cut down.
"The first day we were out here there were birds flying around trying to find their nests. People found baby falcons here. Thank God they were saved," McKinney said.
Along with being an important wildlife habitat, he said the land has deep spiritual value and court proceedings won't stop him from defending it.
Arrowheads as well as a lodge — a teepee-like structure used for prayer and ceremonies — is located in the remaining forest on the Parker Lands. Destroying the lodge is akin to knocking down a church, said McKinney.
"All these trees in this bush are trees you would use for ceremonies, there's poplar and there's willow and there's medicines all over the ground," he said. "In my mind this land belongs to no man."
Fully entitled to clear cut, says lawyer
Kevin Toyne, a lawyer representing plaintiff numbered companies as well as Andrew Marquess, one of the landowners and owner of Gem Equities, said his clients have every right to raze the forest because they own it.
"The land belongs to the plaintiffs and the people who are trespassing should be removed and we're asking the court to remove them because they refuse to leave the land voluntarily," he said.
"They are fully entitled to clear the property."
A sworn affidavit of Marquess states there are no legal proceedings involving property ownership brought forward by any First Nation.
He said he has never been contacted by the City of Winnipeg, the province, the Manitoba Metis Federation nor the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs about concerns regarding the land's rightful ownership.
"If the property was truly 'contested,' that contest would have occurred many years ago when the City of Winnipeg was considering the site for redevelopment," Marquess's affidavit states.
Mayor Brian Bowman said Wednesday that Gem Equities and Marquess do indeed have the right to remove trees even though they committed earlier to stalling work until a development plan could be approved by the city.
Toyne said his clients don't have an exact dollar amount with regards to how much their business has been hurt by the protest blocking development.
The statement of claim says the protest has impaired business relationships between developers and contractors, and prevented development work which has resulted in lost revenues.