Manitoba

What laws may have been broken by anti-restrictions protesters in Winnipeg?

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman says a protest in front of the Manitoba Legislature has broken "numerous laws." If so, which ones — and how likely are police to enforce them?

Mayor Brian Bowman says protesters have broken 'numerous laws'

A truck participating in the Winnipeg protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other pandemic restrictions can be seen parked in a bus stop on Broadway on Thursday. (CBC)

The protest in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other pandemic restrictions has partially choked off streets in Winnipeg's downtown for more than a week.

Last Monday, Winnipeg police said they had not issued any tickets against the protesters, and since then have refused to say what steps they have taken to penalize protesters who may have broken the law.

Police have said they are trying to avoid escalating the situation while balancing the rights of those involved.

"No matter what one's opinion is on whether the police are doing a good job or a bad job or a medium job on dealing with this protest or blockade, I think everyone can agree that the police are in a very difficult position," said Frank Cormier, a criminologist at the University of Manitoba.

But some members of the public and elected officials have questioned why police have not acted more forcefully against the protest.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said at a Tuesday news conference that there are "numerous laws that are being contravened" by the protest, which is one of several opposing pandemic restrictions across Canada.

But which laws, exactly, might the protesters have broken, and what penalties could they face? 

As examples of possible violations, a spokesperson for the mayor pointed to the section of the city's neighbourhood liveability bylaw dealing with noise, as well as sections of the city's parking bylaw.

A truck is shown parked in a crosswalk during the protest in downtown Winnipeg on Thursday. (CBC)

Noise bylaw

Loud, sustained honking has been a recurring feature of the convoy protests across Canada. 

People living near the protest site in Winnipeg say they have suffered from lack of sleep and headaches caused by the sounds of horns that one nearby resident described earlier this week as "non-stop blaring" that included a train horn.

Winnipeg's noise bylaws specifically prohibit "unreasonably loud, unnecessary or excessive" sounds or those that would unreasonably disturb the "peace and safety" of an average person.

They also prohibit noises that are "so harsh, prolonged, unnatural or unusual" that they create discomfort for individuals or detrimentally affect residential areas or businesses.

The bylaw also says no one may idle a vehicle engine for more than 10 minutes within 150 metres of a residential property before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m.

City of Winnipeg noise bylaws limit noise within 150 metres of residential properties. This map shows a 150-metre radius around the intersection of Memorial Boulevard and Broadway, where the protest is centred. The radius includes apartment buildings at 85 Kennedy St. and 167 Colony St. (Duk Han Lee/CBC)

Anyone who breaks the law could face a fine of at least $50 to $150.

A code of conduct drafted by the protest organizers initially asked people to refrain from honking between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

On Wednesday, they released an amended version of the code of conduct that asked honking be kept to two minutes at the top of every hour from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., as well as "short intermittent honking."

Parking bylaw

Bowman pointed out multiple sections of the city's parking bylaw that the protest may be violating.

Those include sections that prohibit large vehicles parking on a street or paid parking space for more than one hour.

It also says no vehicle can park on boulevard or "in such a manner as to constitute an obstruction or hazard on a roadway."

Violations of any of those sections could carry a fine of between $60 and $100.

Portable toilets have been installed at the protest site, shown here on Thursday. Police have said the protesters have not applied for any permits. (CBC)

The bylaw also prohibits parking in a crosswalk. On Thursday, the protesters released a statement saying they were working with police to clear vehicles away from the crosswalk at Memorial and Broadway.

The installation of portable toilets at the protest site could also violate city rules. 

In the past, city officials have ordered the removal of portable toilets that were set up without a permit. 

Police have said that no one has applied for any permits related to the protest.

Difficulty of enforcement

Despite these and other potential violations, Bowman and other officials have cited a number of legal, jurisdictional and practical obstacles to enforcement.

Bowman and Winnipeg Police Board chair Coun. Markus Chambers have repeatedly said the Winnipeg Police Service is in charge of enforcement of the laws, and the Police Services Act prevents city officials from directing specific police operations.

After a closed-door meeting of the board and police Chief Danny Smyth on Wednesday, Chambers said the police service has a strategy for dealing with the protesters that aims to preserve the peace.

"There is discretion, with respect to the enforcement of those bylaws," Chambers said, adding that the chief was seeking to avoid "torquing the situation" by making arrests or handing out tickets.

Cormier says the issue is not whether Winnipeg police have the resources to clear the protesters out.

"They're basically saying … it's not appropriate for police to sort of pick and choose which protests get to go on and which ones are ended against the will of the protesters," he said.

This map shows the boundaries of the protest site in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building. The yellow areas are under the jurisdiction of the provincial government. (Duk Han Lee/CBC)

The section of Memorial Boulevard from Broadway to York Avenue that protesters have blocked off falls under provincial jurisdiction, along with Memorial Park. 

A spokesperson for the provincial government referred all questions about enforcement to the Winnipeg Police Service. 

The province has a form on its website for groups to fill out before holding a protest or demonstration in front of the building, but the provincial spokesperson said the convoy protesters did not submit that form.

The police service has said that it may issue fines or lay charges at a later date.

However, the city cannot "arrest our way out of this," Chambers said, and both sides must make concessions.

On Friday, Premier Heather Stefanson announced the province would begin rolling back some health restrictions in the coming week.

She insisted, though, that plan was based on hospitalization data and modelling, and that she was not caving to protesters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said later Friday that police and all levels of government are preparing to take action against the demonstrators behind the blockades across the country, warning protesters must stand down or potentially face criminal charges and steep financial penalties for illegal activities.

While the task of removing the protesters may be difficult for police, Cormier says there is little that politicians can do either, without either risking violence or appearing to capitulate to the demands of protesters.

"It's not quite to the level of, 'We don't negotiate with terrorists.' But we're hearing that kind of language now.

"It's starting to come a little closer to that, to that sort of a scenario that no government wants to get involved in."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cameron MacLean is a journalist for CBC Manitoba living in Winnipeg, where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience reporting in the city and across Manitoba, covering a wide range of topics, including courts, politics, housing, arts, health and breaking news. Email story tips to cameron.maclean@cbc.ca.

With files from Marina von Stackelberg and Jeremie Bergeron

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