Manitoba legislature encampment dismantled; seven arrested

Winnipeg police say seven people are facing charges after officers stopped an attempt to expand an encampment on the Manitoba Legislature grounds.

Around 40 police officers, along with Manitoba Conservation officers were seen at the legislature Tuesday afternoon, a day after officers stopped an encampment from growing.

The Winnipeg Police Service said in a news release Tuesday, officers provided a safe work environment for Manitoba Legislature staff to dismantle the structures.

This comes after police were on site Monday in response to information that occupants were bringing in building materials to expand the north camp’s footprint by building a new teepee.

“Poles were laid on the ground forming a border to delineate their claimed space. Legislative Security Officers and police advised participants to cease bringing in the materials as it was contrary to The Legislative Security Act,” the release said.

“Despite verbal warnings, the group formed a long human chain, preventing officers from carrying out their duties and providing cover for the individuals bringing in materials such as wooden poles 30 feet in length.”

WPS said Tyler Demarchuk, 27, Patrick Neilen, 34, Aaron Lee Dumas, 45, Eduardo Alberto Barahona, 55, Krystal Lisa Kerriann Jensen, 35, Monique Cusson, 36, and Ashley Catcheway, 39, were charged with obstructing peace officers and deposit items in the legislative precinct that support extended stay.

None of the charges have been tested in court.

Meanwhile, at least three people associated with the encampment were taken away by police on Tuesday, while other members left voluntarily.

The encampment was set up in spring and 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.

Originally, there was one teepee, and a second was added in the summer. The protesters had planned to build a third Monday and put out a call on social media for supporters to help them build a “law lodge.”

The government passed a law in the spring 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.

Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said in a statement Monday security concerns had escalated over the past few weeks, citing verbal assaults and threats to staff and visitors.

He said Tuesday he wants the legislature grounds to be a place people feel safe to visit, work, and protest.

“This is an appropriate place to protest, but there are safety concerns when people come and don’t leave and make it a permanent place, and those were demonstrated over the last number of weeks,” he said.

The Progressive Conservative government has been faced with encampments since last summer. The first one, which is ongoing on the east lawn of the grounds, is in response to the discovery of unmarked graves at residential school sites.

Goertzen said police will ultimately decide whether to dismantle or carry out other enforcement at that camp.

“We’re not giving direction in terms of how or when things should happen, but we do create legislation for the safety of individuals, and we expect that those laws ultimately are enforced.”

– With files from CTV News’ Jeff Keele and The Canadian Press

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