Winnipeg's top civil servant to explore injunction against downtown protest
City council backs plan to consider court action to mitigate noise, traffic complaints
Winnipeg city council has asked the city's chief administrative officer to look into a court injunction to reduce complaints about the noise and traffic disruptions created by protesters near the Manitoba Legislature grounds.
In a special meeting on Thursday, council voted unanimously to ask CAO Michael Jack, a lawyer by training, "to investigate the possibility" of going to court to restore "common order to the community as a result of the excessive noise and vehicle disruptions" emanating from the demonstration that began at Broadway at Memorial Boulevard last week.
"I would once again call on those currently occupying our streets to please leave," Mayor Brian Bowman said before the vote.
"It would go a long way if they would remove the heavy equipment from our streets and respect the noise rules we have in place."
Demonstrators at the intersection have been honking horns for six days in opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and pandemic restrictions, prompting hundreds of noise and traffic complaints, as well as concerns from area businesses about customers avoiding downtown Winnipeg.
Council met to consider a motion authored by Bowman, who wanted to ask the police and province to consider doing more to mitigate the nuisance created by the protest.
Several councillors objected on the basis the motion had no teeth.
Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) noted council does not have the power to direct police operations. Coun. Shawn Nason (Transcona) called the motion a "puff piece." Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski) wondered why the mayor even bothered to call a special meeting.
Within hours, Bowman scrapped his motion and replaced it with more specific plans suggested by Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood) and Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry).
Injunction plan raised
Klein raised the idea of the court injunction.
"That will get real action, that will bring about some ability for police to act," Klein said following the vote. "It's not a question of what they're protesting. It's a question of how it's impacting residents, businesses and the city."
Rollins suggested the CAO look into raising fines for creating noise nuisances that last longer than 24 hours and blocking emergency vehicles. She also wanted the Winnipeg Police Board and city to review police communications during a protest.
All of their suggestions were incorporated into the motion approved by council.
Bowman cautioned Winnipeggers not to expect any immediate relief as a result of the motion, given that it may take days to issue a motion and much longer to raise fines.
The concern about police communications arose after the city's Twitter account issued a tweet, drafted by the Winnipeg Police Service, that opined about the constitutional rights of protestors.
Jack said that tweet should not have been issued and said it incorporated language from a two-year-old 311 script intended to describe an event at that point.
There was a Black Lives Matter rally in Winnipeg during the spring of 2020.
At the start of Thursday's special meeting, councillors asked Jack whether the city has enough police and other personnel to contend with the demonstration.
Jack said there is no need right now for additional police. He also said it would not be wise to send bylaw enforcement officers into a large demonstration because they don't have specialized training and could inflame the situation.
Bowman also expressed concerns about the potential for escalating tensions or even violence. He urged counter-protesters to be calm and repeated his request for protesters to leave the city.
Bowman and Premier Heather Stefanson issued a joint statement saying they discussed the protest in a virtual meeting Thursday afternoon.
In the statement, they called on protesters to respect the rights of others in the area to live and work in peace.
They also said they would keep the lines of communication open and wouldn't rule out any options to address the situation.
In a statement, organizers with the group Winnipeg Freedom Convoy said they are committed to a peaceful gathering at the legislature and are trying not to disrupt area businesses.
They pointed to a code of conduct that requests participants to limit honking to two minutes on the hour, between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.
"We, too, are business owners and community members, and we wish to remain respectful of the concerns of others," Caleb Brown and Rick Wall said in a statement.
The organizers said they are not affiliated with people blocking the U.S. border at Emerson or surrounding a school in Steinbach.