Sask. government seeks court order to remove Justice For Our Stolen Children camp

The Government of Saskatchewan is taking legal action against the Justice for Our Stolen Children Camp and Regina Police Chief Evan Bray.

If order is granted, province expects Regina Police Service to help

Protest organizer Prescott Demas says he'd rather see the province address the issues the camp is talking about, than take them to court. (CBC News)

The Government of Saskatchewan is asking for a court order to remove the Justice For Our Stolen Children camp in Regina's Wascana Centre.

The province is taking legal action against members of the camp and Regina Police Chief Evan Bray, according to court documents that were filed Tuesday at Regina's Court of Queen's Bench. 

"It is important to stress that we are not asking the court to stop the group from protesting," reads a statement from Minister of Central Services Ken Cheveldayoff sent to CBC News in an email Thursday. 

"In a democracy, people and groups have the right to protest and we respect this group's right to protest. The Wascana Park bylaws prohibit unauthorized overnight camping, erecting and maintaining structures, and burning combustibles, and we are asking that these bylaws be enforced," it reads. 

'Cease occupying the Land'

The documents filed by the government ask the court to direct the campers to "cease occupying the Land" and that any orders made "be directed to the Chief of Police of the Regina Police Service."

Between 20 to 30 people are camping in the west side of Regina's Wascana Park in teepees facing the Legislative Assembly. Protesters are demanding that the government make changes to the justice system and address what the protesters call an overrepresentation of Indigenous children in foster care.

In June, six campers were arrested when Regina Police dismantled the camp. No charges were laid, and those arrested were released hours later. 

The campers rebuilt shortly after the arrests. In response, Justice Minister Don Morgan said he expected police to enforce the rule of law and that the grounds are not intended for overnight camping.

Fifteen teepees had been raised as of Thursday morning. 

The camp launched its own legal action on Monday. It is asking the court for a declaration that the protest is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that the June arrests were unconstitutional.

Dan LeBlanc said if a court order is granted, protestors will evaluate their options, including making an appeal. (CBC News)

Protesters' lawyer notes bylaw created in June

The protesters' legal counsel said Thursday that in the applications from both sides, the court has one main question to decide.

"Does the camp's right to be there and express themselves outweigh the government's interest in lawn maintenance?" he said.

LeBlanc noted one of the three park bylaws the government cites in its action came into effect after the protest began.  

"From our perspective it's notable that Bylaw 27 only became law on June 21, 2018, that being three days after the protesters were arrested and the camp was dismantled," he said. 

Leblanc said the main activities the bylaw prohibits is "assuming exclusive possession or control over a portion of the park."

"Nothing like that apparently existed in the bylaws beforehand."

He said if the government's order is granted, protesters will evaluate their options, including an appeal. 

On June 28, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe backed calls for police to remove the teepees before Canada Day celebrations. Moe cited laws that cover the park, ensuring it's available to everyone.

The camp stayed up on Canada Day. Camp members met with the provincial government on July 2. Campers wanted another meeting but Moe has since said the government doesn't plan on meeting with the protesters "at this time."

Gov't expects police to comply

In the statement sent to CBC, Cheveldayoff said if the order is granted the government expects the police to help with enforcement. 

Regina Police Services has indicated it will not be commenting on the legal action.

Bray previously told reporters police don't have any intention of dismantling the camp unless it becomes a public safety risk.

'We've been here for 142 days'

Prescott Demas helped establish the camp. He was one of those arrested and is named in the suit.

"I would rather the province forget about these simple little bylaws that they are trying to claim we are illegal here and to focus on the issues as to why we've been here. We've been here for 142 days and all they say is, 'They're here illegal, they're here illegal,' " he said Thursday. 

"Why don't they come out, why don't they address the issues that we're talking about?" 

The Ministry of Justice expects the application for the government's court order will be heard the same time of the justice camp's legal action, for which a hearing date is set Aug. 23. 

Teepees have been set up in Saskatoon and Winnipeg in solidarity with the Regina camp.

More to come.

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

Reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a network reporter for CBC News based in Toronto. She previously worked in Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter @CBCOlivia. Send story ideas to olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.