Manitoba

Winnipeg mayor calls for special meetings over handling of convoy protest

Winnipeg police are under pressure from municipal leaders over their handling of the ongoing to the ongoing convoy protest against COVID-19 restrictions that has clogged downtown streets and disrupted life for residents for the last five days.

Bowman holding special city council meeting, calls on Coun. Chambers to hold police board meeting

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said the convoy protest against COVID-19 mandates in front of the Manitoba legislative building is violating laws. (CBC)

Winnipeg police are under pressure from municipal leaders to answer questions about their handling of the ongoing convoy protest against COVID-19 restrictions that has clogged downtown streets and disrupted life for residents for the last five days.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman plans to call a special meeting of city council in response to the protest.

"It's an unlawful occupation of our public streets … there's numerous laws that are being contravened right now," Bowman said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

The emergency council meeting, which will be held Thursday, will give councillors a chance to ask questions of chief administrative officer Michael Jack, as well as voice their views on how the city should respond, Bowman said.

Although he said Winnipeggers have told him they want to see the laws enforced, that responsibility lies with the Winnipeg Police Service, and provincial legislation prevents him from directing them to do anything.

"I want Winnipeggers to know we're hearing loud and clear from you, and what we're hearing is that Winnipeggers want the laws to be enforced."

Since Friday, the protesters have set up in front of the legislative building, slowing traffic, honking horns and setting off fireworks.

On Tuesday, the protesters sent a letter to Premier Heather Stefanson laying out their list of requests, which includes giving hard end dates to COVID-19 mandates, reinstating provincial employees placed on leave, advocating for the federal government to remove travel and border restrictions, and reviewing the Emergency Measures Act and Public Health Act.

A spokesperson for Stefanson did not answer questions about whether the premier had received the letter, or whether she had any plans to meet with the protesters.

"As a government, we will continue to consult with public health to determine the timing and extent of the next phase of relaxing public health orders based on health-care system capacity, while learning to live with COVID-19," the spokesperson said in an email statement to CBC News.

Bowman said the protesters have delivered their message and he wants the demonstration to come to an end.

Charter rights

On Monday, the City of Winnipeg Twitter account posted a tweet, drafted by the Winnipeg Police Service, that said the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the right to peacefully gather, which "supersedes the Traffic Act and City By Laws."

Bowman called the post "unfortunate" and said "it didn't help the situation."

The protest has clogged downtown streets for five days. (CBC)

One constitutional law expert said the city's statement would only be true if the municipal laws were somehow inconsistent with the charter.

Gerard Kennedy, a professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba, said rights such as freedom of expression and assembly are subject to reasonable limits.

"Insofar as the municipal bylaws are reasonable limits on any charter rights, there is no violation of the charter. So there is no conflict that we need to resolve between the municipal bylaw and the charter."

The mayor said he asked Coun. Markus Chambers, chair of the Winnipeg Police Board, to call a special meeting of that body, and Chambers responded that he was already considering it.

In an interview with CBC News, Chambers said the special meeting would allow the board to ask Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth about how to bring the protest to a peaceful end.

"We have the fundamental rights and freedoms in a protest. This isn't a protest. It's gone beyond that now," he said.

Specifically, Chambers says he wants to know how long the protesters intend to stay, and whether there is any possibility the protest could increase in size.

Police response

The police service released a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying it has overseen large, unplanned demonstrations in the past, and works to balance the rights of everyone involved.

"The WPS recognizes that these types of operations that balance public safety objectives with public expectations leave many citizens and, in some cases, community leaders with concerns stemming from a lack of understanding of police operations," the statement said.

"The WPS is not in a position to discuss details of our operations, but they are conducted to achieve a peaceful resolution."

The statement said in some situations, police officers may not immediately issue a ticket 

Protest organizer Rick Wall posted a video to his Facebook page early Tuesday morning, in which he talked about the relationship the protesters have with police.

"The local police have been absolutely amazing to work with so far. We are in complete unity with them," Wall said in the video.

"They're like part of the team, they're just like us, they're just in uniform."

Protest organizer Rick Wall, shown here during a protest near the Canada-U.S. border on Jan. 17, said the Winnipeg Police Service is in 'complete unity' with the protesters. (Submitted by Rick Wall)

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Police Service did not respond when asked if they agreed with Wall's description of their relationship.

When asked whether the Winnipeg Parking Authority had handed out any tickets to protesters, Bowman said the area immediately in front of the legislative building on Memorial Boulevard was provincial jurisdiction.

On other streets around the protest site, which are City of Winnipeg property, Bowman said the Winnipeg Police Service is the "lead" organization with authority to enforce all laws, including the city's traffic and liveability bylaws.

WATCH | Winnipeg Mayor calls special meeting to respond to convoy protest:

Winnipeg Mayor calls special meeting to respond to convoy protest

6 months ago
Duration 2:23
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman plans to call a special meeting of city council in response to the ongoing convoy protest against COVID-19 restrictions that has clogged downtown streets and disrupted life for residents for the last five days.

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, Sam Samson and Karen Pauls

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