FILE: Members of the Urban Warrior Alliance set up a blockade along a CN and Via rail line west of Winnipeg.
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government has introduced a bill that proposes tougher fines and possible imprisonment for people interfering with critical infrastructure.
Justice Minister Cameron Friesen said the Progressive Conservative government was looking for a balance between the rights of people to protest and the needs to maintain infrastructure.
“The intent there would be to allow for people to gather, allow for their voices to be heard but to keep them and everyone safe while ensuring the unfettered operation, construction or use of that infrastructure,” Friesen said Monday.
The bill allows for the owner or operator of the infrastructure to be able to apply for a court order to create a temporary protection zone.
Included would be oil or natural gas pipelines and provincial highways. It also includes courthouses, hospitals and animal processing facilities.
If a person were to go into the area, he or she could be fined $5,000 or jailed for up to 30 days. A corporation could be fined up to $25,000.
Each day a person doesn’t follow the court order, the fine can be imposed again.
A court would be able to designate an area where people could protest.
“There would be no desire to see the voices of Manitobans diminished in any way,” Friesen said.
A controversial bill targeting protestors became law in Alberta last year following cross-Canada demonstrations in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in B.C. who were opposed to pipeline construction in their territory.
That legislation forbids anyone from willfully damaging or interfering with essential infrastructure and also brings in fines and jail time.
It is facing a constitutional challenge from an Alberta labour union.
Friesen said Manitoba’s proposed legislation is different. The minister said the Tory bill doesn’t just target those protesting the oil industry and is clearer about what constitutes critical infrastructure.
Nahanni Fontaine, justice critic for Manitoba’s Opposition New Democrats, said the large fines can be devastating for people who are standing up for their rights. She accused the Tories of using the bill to silence anyone who doesn’t agree with them.
“It’s important for Manitobans and Canadians to have that opportunity to express their displeasure at whatever the issue may be,” she said.
First Nation leaders in Manitoba have shared that hundreds of Manitoba First Nation citizens have always been neglected in some aspect when it comes to health services.
First Nation leaders are making a plea to the provincial and federal governments to take concrete action to reduce and eventually eliminate anti-Indigenous racism in Canada’s health care system.
“It is hard to believe that in this day and age, we have to talk about racism,” said Grand Chief Garrison Settee, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Inc. in a press conference on Facebook Live on Tuesday.
“I thought that we as a nation have evolved to a place that we are more tolerant and accepting of one another, but in our health care system, that is not the case. Anti-Indigenous racism is apparent, and stories from our First Nations confirm that it does exist.”
Organizations such as MKO and KIM have voiced out their frustrations as their members continue to face mistreatment in hospitals and nursing stations.
It has even come to a point whereby First Nations would rather suffer quietly in their own homes because they know they will not receive adequate health services as they are continually being doubted by health officials.
“No one should be doubted when they are looking for medical attention. They should be treated with respect and compassion. That is all we want,” said Chief Shirley Ducharme, O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation.
On Jan.11, O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation Councillor Brian Wood’s wife, Carol, had a car accident that caused tremendous pain in her right leg.
That day, Wood quickly brought her to the nursing station in South Indian Lake where a nurse attended to her for less than five minutes.
The nurse diagnosed her and stated that since her leg does not appear to be broken, Wood should return home with his wife and schedule a flight to Thompson so that she can be reassessed the next week.
When they got home, her leg started to swell and turned blue. Not trusting the nurse, he decided to call Ducharme about his dilemma. After speaking with her, he managed to approve his wife as an outpatient. Immediately, he and his wife drove four hours to Thompson so she could receive proper care.
“The health staff there noticed that she wasn’t doing very well. They took her to the emergency room right away and did some x-rays. They found that there were two fractures in her leg and that there was something wrong with her knee,” said Wood.
She was later sent to Winnipeg via medevac so that she could receive surgery. As of now, she is recuperating in Thompson with a 14-inch scar on her leg.
Wood noted that this is only an example of First Nations people who cannot access medical care in their home community due to negligence.
First Nations who have issues accessing medical systems in a culturally safe way may contact Bernice Thorassie, MKO’s Client Navigator for advocacy assistance at Bernice.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 204-307-5066.
Dr. Barry Lavallee, Chief Executive Officer at Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin (KIM) Inc. said that racism in the health care system essentially promotes torture and suffering towards First Nation citizens attempting to seek help.
By Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun.
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.”
Escalating confrontation in name of reconciliation
Emily Amos, a member of Indigenous Youth for Wet’suwet’en, sings during a protest held in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en in British Columbia at Portage Avenue and Dominion Street in front of RCMP ‘D’ Division Headquarters in Winnipeg on Feb. 24. MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
By: Dylan Robertson, Winnipeg Free Press
Harrison Powder recalls the look of hate in a truck driver’s eyes as the tractor-trailer lurched towards a group of Indigenous protesters south of Morris.
In February, protests in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en pipeline opposition in B.C. were strangling Canada’s key supply routes, with demonstrators across the country blockading railways and main roads.
On Highway 75, two protesters holding flags stood in the middle of the road. An approaching semi-truck slowed down, but then swerved around the pair, gaining speed as it briefly pointed towards a group of elders and children.
“(The driver) was mad; he was swearing at us. There was this underlying tone of racism,” said Powder.
He jumped out from the group, standing squarely in front of the truck’s right tire. He jumped back in the nick of time.
“If I had slipped on ice, he would have ran right over me.”
This past winter, long-simmering grievances about broken treaty promises had boiled over. Protesters occupied Winnipeg MP Dan Vandal’s constituency office for 11 days, while railway blockades from Headingley to Halifax united under the hashtag #ShutDownCanada.
The disruption caused Quebec hospitals to start rationing propane and put the minority Liberal government on the back foot, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cancelling at the last minute a meticulously planned diplomatic trip to the Caribbean.
The pressure mounted right up until COVID-19 suddenly dominated the public’s attention in March.
The protests continued during the pandemic.
At the site of the Keeyask generating station megaproject, four Cree bands are nominally partners with Manitoba Hydro. They felt compelled to blockade the site’s access roads in May, as they felt the Crown corporation’s pandemic protocols did not address safety concerns.
This fall, Mi’kmaq fishers asserting their right to harvest lobster faced angry mobs and suspected arson in Nova Scotia.
“We’re not out there because we want to; we’re forced to be out there,” said Powder. “It’s the only time people pay attention.”
Indigenous rights protests aren’t new; many Canadians recall tense moments and tragedies during the Ipperwash and Oka crises.
Yet, the blockades and protests seem to be taking on an increased appeal. Indigenous people are younger than the general population, and they’re demanding Canada stop contributing to climate change, which threatens their traditions and connection with the land.
“We’re really understanding the true loss that we will have if we don’t fight,” said Victoria Redsun, a Winnipeg activist who was arrested in February at the epicentre of the Wet’suwet’en protest in northern British Columbia.
That dispute surrounds a court injunction to allow construction of a natural-gas pipeline. Bands elected under the colonial Indian Act supported the project, but it was opposed by clans with a hereditary leadership system that dates to before colonization.
Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press Files A group of protesters supporting the Wet’suwet’en perform a sit in along with other allies at Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dan Vandal’s office on Feb. 4. Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press Files.
It thrust questions about who speaks for Indigenous people out of stuffy legal precedents and onto the streets of Canadian cities.
“It’s going to continue escalating,” Redsun said in a call this month from Wet’suwet’en territory. Those braving the harsh winter want sustainability to trump resource extraction and profits for industry.
“What we’re asking for means their complete disruption, and the complete dismantling of the systems that be.”
Redsun, 21, grew up at in Manitoba’s far North at Northlands Denesuline First Nation. She visited the community this summer, and felt troubled to hear of lakes freezing late, and unpredictable caribou harvests.
“Even though I’m so far out from any civilization, I’m still going to be affected by capitalism and colonialism, which are creating global warming,” she said.
Redsun is buoyed by images of large protests that show Canadians of all origins rallying for societal change. Many of those came out for the 2019 climate marches appeared at Indigenous rights rallies last winter, and protests for racial justice this summer.
“I think for the first time in history we’re going to see real change.”
For that to happen, Powder says governments need to uphold the treaties that pledged equity and co-operation.
“These were words of promise, from your nation to our nation. And we want those promises kept,” he said. “If those things were done, Indigenous resistance movements wouldn’t be necessary.”
Yet, Canadian governments are on a collision course on how best to avoid disruptive protests.
Last month, the Manitoba government led by Premier Brian Pallister reissued a spring notice that it intends to pass a bill to ban blocking critical infrastructure, such as railways and dams.
Meanwhile, the Trudeau government is proceeding with another attempt to get the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples enshrined in Canadian law, which will require Indigenous consent for major projects and pipelines.
Vandal, the federal minister of northern affairs, had his St. Boniface constituency office occupied in February, which he says feels like a lifetime ago.
He feels the Liberals have made real progress by including Indigenous leaders in legislation meant to restore their autonomy, and putting up millions to start bridging decades-old gaps.
“There’s so much work to do because past governments, including some Liberal governments, have not invested what they should have, in partnership with Indigenous nations. So the gap is so large that it’s going to take decades to catch up,” Vandal said.
“Reconciliation is a process; there’s going to be no end point.”
That progress isn’t moving fast enough for Powder, but he says it’s a better approach than ignoring Indigenous people’s concerns and then arresting them for blocking a road.
“We’re not here to invade your territories or take anything from you; we’re on the receiving end of that,” he said.
“We’re pretty forgiving. We all want reconciliation in some form. But the only way to get there is to understand that we have rights, as the first peoples of this land.”
A demonstration along Highway 75 near Morris, Man., lasted roughly 2½ hours on Friday. (Patrick Foucault/Radio-Canada)
More than a dozen people protested along Highway 75 in Morris, Man., Friday afternoon
Demonstrators gathered in Morris, Man., on Friday, standing in solidarity with the 1492 Land Back Lane camp in Ontario and protesting the Manitoba government’s throne speech promise to introduce anti-blockade legislation.
“We’ve come together to protest, to show solidarity with Six Nations in Ontario and Land Back Lane camp,” said Harrison Powder, one of more than a dozen people at the protest on Highway 75 at the south end of Morris.
“Those people have been arrested there … while they’re trying to defend their treaty rights.”
Members from the Haudenosaunee community of Six Nations set up the camp in July on an area of land in Caledonia, Ont., slated to become a subdivision, but which people at the encampment say is stolen, unceded Haudenosaunee territory.
Ontario Provincial Police have arrested demonstrators at the site. On Friday, an Ontario Superior Court judge gave the camp until Oct. 22 to vacate the land before he rules on making an injunction against their presence permanent.
Powder said Friday was a national day of action for communities across Canada to stand in support of the 1492 Land Back Lane camp.
“We’re not the only community [and] we’re not the only groups who are protesting,” he said. “It’s happening across the country right now.”
Demonstration to fight promised anti-blockade law
The demonstration, which lasted roughly 2½ hours, was also a protest of legislation promised by Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government that would restrict future blockades.
The government announced its intention to bring forward the new law in its throne speech earlier this week, saying the legislation will prevent “illegal protests and blockades,” referring to railway blockades earlier this year.
“There’s no way that this is designed to infringe on anyone’s right to lawful protest,” Premier Brian Pallister said at the time.
But Powder said that’s exactly what the law will do.
“The Charter of Rights guarantees us these rights … in Canada, to be able to protest bills, to express ourselves, to be able to … defend our communities,” he said.
In comments prior to the throne speech Wednesday, Pallister said blockades “take away” the rights of people they impact. Powder said Friday that’s incorrect.
“The most we do is disrupt the public for a few minutes,” he said.
In the case of prolonged blockades like the railway blockades earlier this year, Powder said people fighting government action are sometimes left with no other venue to make their voices heard.
“For us, you know, that’s the only way we get attention sometimes,” he said. “The public won’t pay attention, the politicians don’t pay attention to us, until we do something like blocking the railway. And that’s unfortunate.”