Manitoba

Company denied urgent hearing to remove protesters from Parker Lands

A Winnipeg company hoping to develop the Parker Lands will have to wait until November to know whether the court will grant an injunction to remove protesters from the area.

Gem Equities sought injunction to remove the protesters accused of trespassing, delaying work

Owners of the Parker Lands slated for development by Gem Equities have filed a lawsuit against protesters and sought an injunction demanding the group leave. On Wednesday Court of Queen's Bench Justice Herbert Rempel delayed granting the injunction. (Laura Glowacki/CBC)

A Winnipeg company hoping to develop the Parker Lands will have to wait until November to know whether a court will grant an injunction to remove protesters from the area.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Herbert Rempel decided on Wednesday there was no pressing need to grant an immediate hearing, but left the door open to an earlier date should the protest pose a public safety risk.

For nearly two weeks about a dozen people have been camped out on the 24-hectare property known as the Parker Lands in Fort Garry in an effort to stop further destruction of an aspen forest. 

With an injunction slated for November, the protesters say they will continue to block heavy equipment from being used on the site.

If an injunction had been granted Wednesday police would have had the authority to arrest the protesters. In that case, activists told CBC News, they would have voluntarily ended the encampment.

Organizer Jenna Vandal said she was "very pleased" the judge decided to delay the decision regarding an injunction, which will give her and others more time to put together a defence. She believes the Metis have rights to the land, and it should not be developed without input from Indigenous peoples.

Environmental advocate Cal Dueck said he was relieved work on the site will be blocked by protesters until at least November, when migratory birds that have nested in the area begin their flights south.

"Whatever happens now the birds have a chance to leave," he said.

Vandal, Dueck and other protesters named in the lawsuit have until Aug. 25 to submit their response to the landowner's statement of claim. 

Kevin Toyne, lawyer for the two numbered companies acting as plaintiffs in the case as well as Andrew Marquess, president of developer Gem Equities, continued to raise concerns about a public safety risk posed by the camp.

Jenna Vandal, a Metis woman, said she and others are blocking equipment at the Parker Lands until Indigenous groups are consulted regarding the land's development. (CBC)

Toyne said in court Wednesday protesters have been seen wearing masks to hide their identities, and an axe was seen.

"No one would be allowed to walk in this courtroom with an axe," Toyne told the judge. "An axe is a weapon."

After the hearing, Vandal flatly denied protesters posed any type of threat and have so far had a good relationship with both employees and police officers who have stopped by the site.

"Anyone at the site will tell you would tell you that it's been a peaceful protest since day one," she said.

A 'middle finger' to rule of law

Toyne said land owners see the protest as an affront to their rights, and claim the demonstrators are trespassers.

"They [protesters] are effectively giving the middle finger to everyone who pays their taxes and the rules of law," he said.

A Winnipeg company hoping to develop the Parker Lands will have to wait until November to know whether a court will grant an injunction to remove protesters from the area. 1:57

The lawyer said his clients are considering hiring a private security firm to physically remove the protesters.

Protesters set up a small camp of about six tents on the Parker Lands July 14 after Gem Equities began clearing trees. Already about one third of the aspen forest has been shredded.

Marquess acquired the property in 2009 in a controversial land swap with the city.

The residential development Gem Equities envisions would be called Oak Grove. The plan includes high-density towers, medium-density low-rise buildings, low-density townhouses and single-family homes, arranged in concentric circles around a Southwest Transitway station plaza.

City council has not approved the area plan, rezonings or developments necessary for the company to move forward.

Mayor Brian Bowman said Wednesday city staff has asked Marquess to hold off on removing more trees and were told, "No."

As far as Toyne is concerned, the plaintiffs are fully entitled to clear the property.

"They don't require a permit, they don't require a licence," he said. 

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa and Winnipeg. Previously, she worked as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.

With files from Bartley Kives