Manitoba

Parker Lands protesters under surveillance, threatened with arrest by security firm

The owner of a plot of land south of downtown Winnipeg is contemplating deploying a private security firm to arrest protesters camped out on the private property.

Indigenous 'land defender' says private property is sacred and must be protected

Jenna Vandal says she won't leave the Parker Lands until Indigenous people are consulted about the future of the private property, which she called sacred. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

The owner of the Parker Lands is contemplating using a private security firm to arrest protesters camped out on the property in Winnipeg's Fort Garry area.

Kevin Toyne, the lawyer representing two numbered companies that own the partly wooded plot south of downtown, said his clients are willing to move against protesters who have set up an encampment on the land.

"The plaintiffs have every right, just like every other landowner in the province of Manitoba, to take reasonable steps to remove them," Toyne told CBC on Wednesday night, just a few hours before large diesel-powered lights started to shine over protesters.

The owners also installed security signs and large overhead lights in other areas of the property.

The lights are the latest tactic in a bid to get demonstrators off the land. Last month, the property owners tried to get a November court date for an injunction hearing against the protesters moved forward, but the judge refused the request.

The Parker Lands are located south of Taylor Avenue and west of the Jubilee interchange. Gem Equities, a developer connected to the numbered corporations, acquired it in a controversial land swap with the city.

Diesel-powered lights now shine over a protester encampment on the Parker Lands. Vandal called the light a well-known intimidation tactic. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

The developer wants to build homes and apartment buildings and has already cut down trees on the land, which Jenna Vandal, a Métis-Anishinaabe woman, calls sacred.

Vandal, who calls herself a "land defender," said she's not intimidated by the lights that now shine on the encampment or threats of arrest.

"We're not moving," she said.

Vandal said the core group of 15-20 people camped out on the site have been under constant surveillance by a private security company, which Toyne wouldn't name.

"They are watching us. There's always a man sitting in a van at the end of the road with a camera on us, 24/7 now."

Signs now warn trespassers about 24-hour surveillance at the site. (Bartley Kives/CBC)
She said she wants a moratorium on tree removal until the Manitoba Métis Federation and other Indigenous groups are consulted on how they want to see the land used.

"We just want to see the Indigenous people involved in the conversation on how the land is developed or protected," she said.

She said she recognizes that the developer has no legal obligation to consult with Indigenous peoples about the land, but there should be a "good faith" duty to consult.

"We're living in the era of reconciliation," Vandal said.

Lights to shine all night

Toyne said the industrial lights will continue to shine from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., although he wouldn't say whether they were brought in so protesters can't sleep, nor what other tactics the security company may use to get the protesters off the property.

He's filed a case with the Manitoba Court of Appeal that he hopes will overrule the judge's decision to put off ruling on an injunction until November.

Toyne's also launched a lawsuit on behalf of his clients against Vandal and other protesters.

About the Author

​Austin Grabish started reporting when he was young, landing his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca