By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is looking at tightening security at the legislature and banning some activities from the grounds that surround the historic building.
A bill put forward by the Progressive Conservative government Tuesday proposes the provincial cabinet set down a list of prohibited activities in the area. Security officers would have the power to evict people who engaged in those activities and offenders could face fines of up to $5,000.
Kelvin Goertzen, justice minister and government house leader, said the proposed law is not aimed at stopping protests.
“This is the right place to have those protests. This isn’t a place to set up permanent structures that inhibit others from being able to access the building or access grounds,” he said.
Two encampments at the legislature were recently disbanded.
One, which went on for months, included tents on the east lawn of the building. They were set up after the discovery of unmarked graves last summer at former residential schools.
The other was a protest against COVID-19 restrictions. Dozens of trucks and large farm vehicles, blaring horns and blocking a nearby street, parked outside the main entrance to the legislature grounds.
Goertzen said improved security was in the works long before those events and before someone drove a truck partway up the legislature’s front steps last year.
The bill, if passed into law, would also give security officers the power to protect politicians, dignitaries and staff not on the legislature grounds.
There would be a new position — chief legislative security officer — and security guards could be armed. In recent months, the Winnipeg Police Service has stationed an armed officer in the building.
“We will have the discussions with the chief legislative security officer about what they believe are the right steps forward, but I don’t think you’ll see a time in the future where there isn’t somebody in the building who is trained to be able to carry arms,” Goertzen said.
The Opposition New Democrats said increased security is needed, given recent events in Manitoba and elsewhere. But they expressed concern about allowing cabinet to decide which activities would be prohibited.
“Do we always agree with the things that are going on outside on the grounds? No,” said Nahanni Fontaine, the NDP justice critic and house leader.
“But it is the people’s building and so we can’t just leave it up to a select few individuals on what is going to be allowed here.”