Winnipeg convoy plans to stay put despite province's roadmap to ending COVID restrictions
Protesters say their presence this weekend will have a celebratory feel
Members of the self-proclaimed "Winnipeg Freedom Convoy" are overjoyed at the news that the receding Omicron wave is allowing the province to fast forward the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions.
But they don't plan on ending their protest anytime soon.
"We're ecstatic. We're very encouraged that dialogue has been opened, and it feels like the narrative is changing a little bit," Caleb Brown, a convoy co-organizer, told CBC News. "The division feels like it's stopped."
Brown was responding to Premier Heather Stefanson's announcement on Friday that laid out a detailed roadmap for the elimination of restrictions in Manitoba.
The province intends to remove all proof of vaccination requirements on March 1, with all restrictions coming to end on March 15, the premier said. Capacity limits for many businesses and other venues, such as Winnipeg Jets home games, will be dropped Tuesday.
Brown believes the lifting of mandates and restrictions will enable many Manitobans to resume their normal lives.
"We're going to have a celebration. It was great news today," Brown said. "We were really excited what Heather had to say, so we're going to celebrate that and continue to build unity and build bridges."
Brown says the convoy doesn't want to cause problems for anyone and that it's not trying to cause a disruption.
"We want to mitigate that the best we can. We wish we didn't have to be here to get people's attention — get elected officials' attention," he added.
Despite the province's announcement that restrictions will be coming to an end, protesters, who Stefanson says didn't play a role in Friday's decisions, say they plan to remain parked outside the Legislature Building until all of the mandates are removed.
The protest will be scaled back, Brown says, with more details will follow.
WATCH | Caleb Brown's full interview with CBC:
"Our truck drivers intend to continue their presence in front of the legislative building until the provincial COVID-19 measures are removed, and until there is collaborative discussion with the federal government on fully eliminating the border restrictions and inter-provincial mobility restrictions, particularly travel by air and train," according to the convoy's statement.
The protesters say their presence this weekend will have a celebratory feel that embodies the collaborative community spirit that epitomizes who Manitobans are. This will include watching family activities Saturday afternoon, a rally at 3 p.m. and watching the Jets play in the evening.
- Ottawa close to removing pre-arrival COVID-19 test for fully vaccinated Canadian travellers: sources
The Winnipeg Police Service is aware of the weekend protests outside the legislature, as well as at CF Polo Park.
Winnipeg police issued a statement Friday afternoon in which they said their role is to ensure public safety and keep the peace.
"We strive to balance the right of everyone to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as the rights of the general public, local residents and businesses to a safe environment," a spokesperson said.
"An operations plan has been developed, which includes the deployment of additional police resources in an effort to create a safe environment for all."
Extra officers will be in place to ensure demonstrations "remain peaceful and non-violent."
Expect highway delays: RCMP
There is not expected to be anything to celebrate near Emerson, Man. this weekend, as approximately 50 vehicles were at times taking part in a blockade on Highway 75 near the Canada-U.S. border Friday, an RCMP news release said.
Mounties from the Emerson and Morris RCMP detachments were on scene prior to the arrival of the vehicles, and other provincial RCMP attachments are also involved.
Emergency vehicles, including police vehicles, as well as some agriculture transports have been getting through the blockade, but otherwise there is no traffic flow in the area.
Police are advising motorists to expect substantial delays in the area and to avoid the Emerson area, if possible, according to the release.
No tickets have been issued and no arrests have been made, but officers are working with protesters to reach a peaceful solution.
"The RCMP is on scene and will remain on scene until the situation at the border is resolved. We will continue to use discretion to guide our response to this evolving situation," said Chief Supt. Rob Hill, the officer in charge of criminal operations for the Manitoba RCMP.
"Let me stress that proper use of police discretion should not be confused with lack of enforcement," Hill said. "We always need to assess the situation at ground level and that may require us to wait for a lower-risk opportunity to do enforcement rather than inflame the situation."
Due to planned demonstrations, Mounties are advising the public to expect delays due to convoys in the areas of Deacons Corner in the rural municipality of Springfield, the Perimeter Highway around Winnipeg, Highway 3 in the Morden area, and the Selkirk area.
The demonstration planned for Highway 3 prompted the Southern Health region to issue a notice Friday calling on protesters not to block ambulances and emergency vehicles trying to access Boundary Trails Health Centre between Morden and Winkler.
Consequences for those who block borders: PM
Border blockades across Canada drew fire from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who lashed out against protesters at a news conference on Friday.
The prime minister said police and all levels of government are preparing to take action against those behind the blockades, including near Emerson.
This includes the potential for authorities to suspend commercial trucking licences and pursue charges that could result in jail time. He also warned that criminal sanctions could be handed down that would prevent the protesters from ever travelling internationally again.
"Everything is on the table because this unlawful activity has to end, and it will end," Trudeau said. "We hope these people will decide to go home. Otherwise, there will be an increasingly robust police intervention."
Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters Friday that he has scheduled a meeting with Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen, who a day earlier called on the federal government to "lower the temperature" on the border protests.