Fog from pepper spray drifts in front of police at the Manitoba Legislature on April 6, 1999, when protesters voicing concerns about poor First Nations housing, unemployment and land claims pushed past barricades and into the lobby. (CBC)
Manitoba has seen protests, but scene at U.S. Capitol this week was ‘a unique situation’: former premier
Opening day of Manitoba’s spring session of the legislature in 1999 became one marked by riot police, pepper spray and an angry crowd pushing its way through the doors.
“We have people trapped between the doors, please step back,” shouted a voice from a loudspeaker.
But even that day was a far cry from the scene at the U.S. Capitol this past week, which a former Manitoba premier — who later became Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. — describes as “a unique situation” incited by the president.
Back in April of 1999, a rally of about 500 people, led by Indigenous groups lobbying the Manitoba government for better housing and education and demanding action on poverty and unemployment, knocked down steel barricades and pushed past police to charge the front doors.
They were met by at least 70 police and sheriff’s officers, as well as riot police, who tackled some to the marble floor of the foyer.
“Somehow the Filmon government has to hear us, has to listen,” Bill Traverse, then-grand chief of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, said at the time about Gary Filmon’s Progressive Conservative government.
“We have to say what has to be said.”
WATCH | The Manitoba Legislature is stormed by protesters on April 6, 1999:
A large chunk of Traverse’s jacket was ripped off his back in the clash.
But it all quickly came to an end.
Several Indigenous leaders, such as Francis Flett, the grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, urged the crowd to let cooler heads prevail, according to a May 1999 report by Windspeaker News.
“We don’t want anyone injured here,” she said. “We’ve made our point and have sent a message to the government.”
Protesters pushed past the barricades at the Manitoba Legislative Building in 1999. (CBC).
It was a scene unusual in its intensity for the Manitoba Legislative Building, but as the provincial seat of government, the legislature has routinely been a rallying point for protests.
More recently, hundreds of people have descended on the legislative grounds for protests around Black Lives Matter, climate change, and against COVID-19 restrictions.
“Sometimes you almost have to have air traffic control, you know, when one or two groups are planning different issues to be protested at the same time,” said former premier Gary Doer, joking about how many people sometimes fill the grounds.
Usually, speeches are made, signs are waved and after a couple of hours the crowds peacefully disperse and move out.
But there have been times when the crowds pushed their way inside.
WATCH | Protesters storm through legislature doors in 1999:
Teachers storm the halls
In May 1996, about 300 teachers stormed the building to protest government proposals aimed at stripping their collective bargaining rights.
Crowding the hallways, they chanted “resign, resign” outside the office of education minister Linda McIntosh.
Earlier that day, at its annual general meeting, the Manitoba Teachers’ Society had denounced proposed government changes to collective bargaining. They then took their outrage to the legislative building.
“What had started as a few people muttering ‘Storm the Lege’ had turned into loud cries. Everyone looked at each other, and as soon as we had enough confidence in ourselves as a group, all it took was one signal. Then we stormed the Lege.”
While security looked on, students scrambled up the legislature’s main stairs and filled the second- and third-floor balconies of the centre block, the account says.
“People were going nuts. No thinking involved, just reaction.”
Everyone assembled for a sit-in as the university student union presidents met with Filmon and emerged about an hour later.
“All Filmon had ‘promised’ was a later meeting,” the Taché Hall account says, noting the students felt hollow but headed out.
Washington chaos ‘unique’: Doer
None of the events in Manitoba can be compared in any way to the chaos that erupted at the Capitol in Washington this week, when a mob supporting outgoing President Donald Trump pushed past barricades and forced their way inside the U.S. Capitol.
Five people have now died — including a Capitol Hill police officer — as a result of the riot that happened hours after a Trump said at a rally he would “never concede” to president-elect Joe Biden, and urged the massive crowd to march to the Capitol.
In the Manitoba incidents, protesters weren’t goaded by someone holding the highest seat of power; they did not attack any security or make it beyond the foyer to ransack offices. No windows were broken. No one died.
While the events at the Capitol will go down in history, the ones at the Manitoba legislative building hardly register in online searches. Doer, who was leader of the Opposition NDP at the time, doesn’t recall the 1999 protest at all.
“I never felt unsafe in the building, and I don’t recall anything that made me feel unsafe inside the legislative building,” said Doer, who is also familiar with the seats of power in the United States, where he was Canadian ambassador from 2009 until 2016.
“I noticed that when the Washington rioters were besieging the Capitol Hill, a lot of the windows were broken and the doors seemed to be pretty porous, which surprised me, having gone through that building a number of times when I was ambassador.”
That said, Doer noted he never felt unsafe in Washington, either.
“I witnessed the almost daily protests walking right by the embassy of Canada, on the way to the Capitol building … and there was never an experience of anything that represented a risk inside the building until this week,” he said.
When he attended the Capitol building for the state of the union address, “the security was incredible,” Doer says.
“So this [riot at the Capitol] was a unique situation, in my view. It was incited by President Trump,” he said. “It started with the president signaling it and messaging it and encouraging it this week.”
Given that, he’s surprised security wasn’t tighter.
Despite the rarity of such outbreaks of disorder, Doer has no doubt “every legislature in Canada” is re-evaluating security procedures.
“You don’t want to ever [reveal] what your security procedures are because you don’t want, tactically, to be conveying that to people that may be interested to know what your vulnerabilities might be,” he said.
“I’m sure the emergency measures people, and the security people are reviewing it, but quietly.”
From left to right, Christina Hardie, Robert Houle, Roxanne Tootoosis, Lynda Minoose, Noella Steinhauer, Lillian Gadwa, Terri Suntjens, Theresa Strawberry, Edna Elias and Beatrice Morin are shown in this undated handout image. THE CANADIAN PRESS
EDMONTON — To Terri Suntjens, symbolism means everything.
That’s why she decided to get involved with the City of Edmonton’s initiative to rename its wards. Suntjens, who is from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, became a co-chair of the Indigenous Naming Committee.
“Our elders talk to us about how symbolism is so important,” says Suntjens, who is also director of Indigenous initiatives at Edmonton’s MacEwan University.
“And we can teach from that.”
Earlier this month, the city passed a bylaw to give its 12 numbered wards Indigenous names.
A committee of Indigenous women chose the names, which come from nine groups: Cree, Dene, Inuit, Blackfoot, Anishinaabe, Michif (Métis), Mohawk (Michel Band), Sioux and Papaschase.
Edmonton is a gathering place for all nations, Suntjens says, so it was important to consult with elders across the province.
The decision by Alberta’s capital to give its wards Indigenous names is an example of a movement in Canada away from names or figures with colonial connections.
In the summer, a group toppled a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Montreal after a peaceful march through the city’s downtown, one of several demonstrations held across the country by a coalition of Black and Indigenous activists.
Other statues of Canada’s first prime minister have been a point of contention, too, as some want them removed because of his troubled history with Indigenous people.
In Halifax,a group including the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs recommended a statue dedicated to city founder Edward Cornwallis be permanently removed, and a street and a park honouring him also be renamed.
Commemoration of Cornwallis, a British officer accused of genocide against Indigenous people, is incompatible with current values, the group said in a report in July.
Suntjens says there are schools across the country named after people with problematic colonial histories. Her committee decided early on to stay away from naming Edmonton’s wards after people and to honour the land instead.
“We do not think of people as above us or below us,” Suntjens says. “We don’t put people up on pedestals. That is not our way.”
The name for Edmonton’s former Ward 2, for example, is Aniriq, meaning breath of life or spirit in Inuktun. It was recommended by Inuit elders to honour their people who died of tuberculosis in Edmonton.
In the 1950s and ’60s, about one-third of Inuit were infected with the illness and most were flown south for treatment. Many died without their families being notified and were buried in cemeteries in the city.
Rob Houle, an Indigenous writer and researcher who also served on the renaming committee, says feedback has mostly been positive, but some councillors showed resistance.
“Some might have expected these Indigenous names for the wards to be easier or introductory in nature, but that is not what we were tasked to do.”
That kind of reaction prompted Edmonton Coun. Aaron Paquette to tweet: “For those who might be worried about pronouncing the potential new ward names … if we can pronounce Saskatchewan, we can do anything.”
In British Columbia, a plan in March to use Indigenous names for some communities along the Sunshine Coast was met with backlash.
Peter Robson, president of the Pender Harbour and Area Residents Association, says there was no warning or consultation with non-Indigenous people in the area.
He says his community of Madeira Park was to be renamed “salalus” as part of an agreement between the B.C. government and the Sechelt Nation in 2018.
“One cannot deny that (Sechelt) Nation people lived here before non-Indigenous people. However, there is also a newer history of the land … that too deserves recognition,” read Robson’s letter to the provincial government.
A more successful project happened in Alberta in September, when a racist and misogynistic nickname for a landmark on Mount Charles Stewart in the Rocky Mountains was removed. Elders chose to bring back the feature’s original name: Anu katha Ipa, or Bald Eagle Peak.
Christina Gray, a B.C.-based lawyer and research fellow with the Yellowhead Institute, a First-Nations-led think tank, commends Edmonton’s naming project and says she hopes to see other jurisdictions follow.
“This year in particular, we’ve seen a tidal shift in perspective, especially around problematic figures throughout Canadian history,” Gray says.
“It is also changing in so many different countries that have also experienced colonialism and imperialism.”
By: Daniela Germano / The Canadian Press published Dec. 25, 2020.
Jonathan Henoche died about a year ago in Her Majesty’s Penitentiary, shown in St. John’s, N.L. in a 2020 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sarah Smellie
ST. JOHN’S, N.L — Ten correctional officers have been charged with crimes ranging from manslaughter to criminal negligence causing death in connection with the 2019 death of an Inuk man in a St. John’s jail.
The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary announced the charges in a Tuesday news release that didn’t include the officers’ identities, when they were arrested or under what conditions they were released.
RNC Const. James Cadigan said in an interview that the correctional officers’ identities will not be released until the charges are sworn in court, which he said must happen before Feb. 11, when the 10 officers are due before a judge.
Cadigan said the 10 correctional officers were released under conditions set by police and that they have not received a bail hearing.
The charges follow the death of Jonathan Henoche, a 33-year-old Inuk man from Labrador, who died at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary on Nov. 6, 2019, after an alleged altercation with correctional officers. He had been awaiting trial on charges including first-degree murder in relation to the 2016 death of an 88-year-old woman in Labrador.
Shortly after Henoche died, police announced his death was being investigated as a homicide.
Bob Buckingham, a St. John’s lawyer representing Henoche’s family, said Tuesday it is “abhorrent” the officers have been released under police-imposed conditions and that their names have not been made public.
“I have never seen a case where one individual has been charged with manslaughter and allowed to go home, let alone a cabal of 10 correctional officers charged with the care and custody of an individual be charged like this, and not be brought to court,” he said. “It is reprehensible.”
Tuesday’s news release by police said one correctional officer is charged with manslaughter and failure to provide necessities of life; two officers are charged with manslaughter; and the remaining seven officers are charged with criminal negligence causing death.
The accused range in age from 28 to 51. Two of the officers facing criminal negligence charges are women, both in their 30s.
Since 2019, Buckingham has been calling for a public inquiry into Henoche’s death. He said the way this case is being handled brings urgency to the need for a public inquiry.
Jonathan Henoche, 33, was killed inside Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s in November 2019 while awaiting trial for first-degree murder. (Facebook)
The correctional officers, Buckingham said, are being afforded protections and favouritism.
Buckingham said it’s “unbelievable” the 10 officers are home under undisclosed conditions.
When asked if it was customary for people facing manslaughter charges to be released on orders to appear in court at a later date, Cadigan said it is “all within the confines of the law, based on the charges.”
Robert Hoskins, a St. John’s lawyer who had represented Henoche with Buckingham, responded to the RNC news release on Twitter: “As an aboriginal myself, it’s hard not to look at this through the lens of systemic racism,” he wrote.
Hoskins said that by not releasing the officers’ names, police are “offering extra protections that are not usually offered.”
“How many aboriginal accused persons get to have their bail hearings deferred on manslaughter charges? Or get to have their names withheld from the media?”
A spokeswoman for the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, which represents corrections officers, said Tuesday it couldn’t comment on the case.
James Favel, co-founder and former executive director of the Bear Clan Patrol Inc., has raised concerns about the influence of current and former Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) officers as well as a board of directors that he described as increasingly unrepresentative of the communities they serve following his dismissal announced July 31.
The Bear Clan is an Indigenous community organization that conducts street patrols, assists with rides and escorts and delivers food to those in need, among other services. The organization has been working with the WPS and its board includes current and former officers.
Beginning with disputes over how to continue to operate foot patrols and food delivery amid the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Favel said he became increasingly at odds with the board.
“The loudest voices [against continuing patrols] were [current] Winnipeg Police Service and retired Winnipeg Police Service [officers],” Favel said.
“I realized at that moment that it could be said that Bear Clan patrols were shut [down] vicariously by the Winnipeg Police through their membership on our board […] I started thinking in terms of reducing the amount of police on our board of directors and making sure they didn’t hold an executive role.”
In a statement on their website, the Bear Clan stated that two police officers currently serving on the board — Brian Chrupalo and Devon Clunis — were recruited by Favel himself, and that “7 out of the 9 current board members” were similarly brought onto the board by Favel.
Favel was later suspended amid allegations of inappropriate conduct and concerns over accepting reimbursements for travel costs — allegations he’s denied and has since hired a lawyer to dispute.
Favel was the subject of a Workplace Health and Safety investigation, which resulted after complaints of intimidation and unprofessionalism by Favel against a Bear Clan staff member.
There was further tension between Favel and the board following controversial statements made on social media by then-board member Réjeanne Caron — a WPS constable who has since stepped down from the Bear Clan board amid public outrage, which included a petition signed by 2,000 people calling for her removal — which spurred Favel to publicly call for her removal.
Favel emphasized he stands by the decision to work with the WPS and his concerns are about the individuals on the board — not the WPS as a whole.
Favel also said he believes the current board is acting undemocratically — holding a virtual annual general meeting restricted to members rather than open to the public, as Favel said they traditionally have been.
“Proper notification was not given,” he said.
“They’re trying to hijack the election. They’re trying to silence the voice of the community.”
The Bear Clan stated they have not yet held an annual general meeting for the 2020 year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the date for the meeting is to be announced.
Concerns Over the Impact of Operating as a Charitable Organization, Ties to Police
The Urban Warrior Alliance (UWA) — another Indigenous community organization operating in the city — was approached with a partnership by WPS in 2015.
For Harrison Powder, a member of the UWA, the partnership was unappealing — it would require denouncing other Indigenous organizations such as the Crazy Indians Brotherhood, an anti-gang group he said was labelled a gang by the WPS.
“We said there was no way we can do that. We [would] rather help youth who want out of the gang life, but we can’t do that if our name is no good to them,” he said.
“The police try to take control of our groups,” Powder said. “[They] offer funding and pay [you] to be part of their visions. There’s also consequences if you don’t do things their way, like with [Favel].”
For Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg, this approach from the police is not surprising.
“Often community organizations want to respond to people’s problems in ways that are avoiding criminalization,” she said.
“The point of community involvement from the perspective of the police is to extend their reach, extend their information–gathering capacities and extend the network of policing,” she said.
“You don’t generally see these partnerships resulting in police changing practices, they’re much more likely to change the practices of the organization that police are partnering with.”
Dobchuk-Land further stated that often, funding structures for community organizations — be they attached to the state or civil society — result in community organizations becoming less accountable to the communities they serve and more so to their funders.
“We actually don’t need funding to engage in the structural changes that would reduce people’s vulnerability to violence,” she said. “In fact, funding structures often limit our capacities to engage in that structural change.”
Favel expressed frustration in the direction the Bear Clan is going.
“To see it come to this point is just horrific,” Favel said. “It saddens me to no end that we’re fighting this way about this organization that is providing so much for so many people.
“The board is not representative of the community at this point, the community knows it. There shouldn’t be any discussion. The board should just step back and give it back to the community.”
This article was first published in The Manitoban on August 18, 2020.