By Dave Baxter
Journalist of the Local Journalism Initiative
The province showed a lack of empathy and a lack of long-term planning when it dismantled an encampment on the east side of the Manitoba Legislature over the weekend, an advocate says longstanding of the homeless and the poor.
“Where are they supposed to go? There is no exit strategy, and I think that shows a real lack of empathy on their part,”
Winnipeg-based homeless advocate Al Wiebe said Monday after an Indigenous-led protest camp on the east lawn of the grounds of the Manitoba Legislative Building that had been operating for more than a year was dismantled on Saturday, and those living in the camp were removed from the field.
“It just sets a very bad precedent when the provincial government removes the camps from public ownership.”
The camp was first set up and a sacred fire was lit in May of
2021 after news broke that what is believed to be 215 unmarked children’s graves were discovered near a former boarding school in Kamloops, and protesters had remained in sight since then, many alive and sleeping in tents.
Wiebe said he was sure some of the protesters who were evicted from the field over the weekend were homeless and would now be looking for another place to go.
“The whole strategy seems to be, ‘throw them out and make them go somewhere else,’ and that’s not an answer,” he said.
“It just makes it look like they don’t care about these people and they just want them out of sight and out of their minds, and that’s never a good strategy because they’re just going to reinstall elsewhere.”
In a statement released over the weekend after the camp was dismantled, Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said it was dismantled due to safety concerns and concerns, and that work to dismantle the camp had was undertaken by provincial law enforcement officers, not municipal police.
“Our government strongly supports the right to lawful protest,” Goertzen said in his statement.
“The Manitoba Legislative Assembly should always be a place to express democratic opinions. However, this must be done in a way that protects the safety of everyone who comes to the Legislature, including school children, visitors, staff, elected officials, dignitaries and protesters.
“Permanent structures and unauthorized encampments are neither legal nor safe on legislature grounds. This has been demonstrated by the significant security issues that have arisen in recent months at the Manitoba Legislative Assembly.
A second encampment that was set up on the north side of the Legislative Building was removed earlier this month amid reports of security concerns stemming from that encampment and the province said weapons were found in plain sight of this camp after its demolition.
The province passed legislation earlier this year that bans camping on legislature grounds and prohibits people from supplying generators, firewood and other goods and people who break the rules can be kicked off the grounds. and incur fines of up to $5,000.
But Wiebe said he thinks the encampments are often seen as unsafe because of existing prejudices, not because of serious safety concerns.
“I see it less as a safety issue and more as a stigma issue. It’s easy for those who haven’t even been there to judge, but it shouldn’t lead to knee-jerk reactions,” he said. -he declares.
Vic Ketchum is a residential school survivor from Winnipeg, and she said the sight of uniformed officers tearing down the camp on weekends was traumatic for her and other survivors she spoke to.
“Seeing officers knocking down tepees and putting out the holy fire was very disturbing, and it gave me massive flashbacks,” Ketchum said.
“It was a reminder of when the police kicked us out of our homes and took us to boarding schools or foster homes when I was a kid, so for me it was sickening.”
-Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
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