By Steve Lambert and Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press
Winnipeg police and conservation officers evicted a protest camp on the north lawn of the Manitoba legislature Tuesday, arresting several people, removing teepees and hauling away equipment including a propane barbecue.
Security officers inside the legislature closed the outside doors temporarily and no one was allowed to enter or leave. Politicians were in the middle of question period at the time.
Once the area was cleared, police set up a fence around theperimeterof the site.
“The Winnipeg Police Service recognizes and honours that today is the National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQ+,” the police service said in a news release.
“The Winnipeg Police (Service) and Manitoba government officials made the decision to dismantle the camp today as a result of escalating threats of bodily harm, the indication of weapons and aggressive behaviour by north camp occupants.”
One of the protesters said there were no assaults or weapons.
“Not here. It didn’t happen on these grounds.” Si Pih Ko told CTV News, shortly before she was taken away by police.
“No violence, no nothing.”
The camp has been adorned with signs and flags highlighting a variety of issues, from the discovery of unmarked graves at residential schools to COVID-19 restrictions to conflict in the Middle East.
It is separate from an Indigenous-led camp on the east lawn, which has been ongoing for more than a year and was not the subject of police actions Tuesday.
The north camp has been running for a few months but recently grew. A second teepee was added this summer. Protesters tried to build a third teepee Monday but were blocked by a line of some two dozen officers. Some protesters said they do not recognize the jurisdiction of police and accused officers of violating human rights.
Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said people have a right to protest, but not a right to set up permanent structures and create an unsafe environment for people accessing the legislature grounds.
“It’s a place to be safe and it’s a place to come and have your views heard, but not a place to come and stay and make others feel unsafe,” he said.
“There were (recent) arrests for individuals who are using things that could be used as dangerous weapons. We’ve seen an escalation over the last few weeks.”
The Progressive Conservative government passed a law earlier this year that forbids encampments on the legislature grounds and bans people from supplying generators, firewood and other goods.
People who break the rules can be evicted from the grounds and face fines of up to $5,000.
Winnipeg police said by Tuesday afternoon, seven people had been charged with obstructing an officer and depositing supplies.