A dozen people now charged with refusing to leave Manitoba legislature encampment
By: CBC News
Five more people have been charged after they refused to leave an encampment on the Manitoba Legislature grounds, Winnipeg police say.
In total, 12 people have now been arrested and charged in connection with the encampment on the north side of the grounds, according to police. They said on Tuesday afternoon that seven were originally arrested on Monday.
In a Wednesday news release, police said an additional five people were also arrested Tuesday afternoon. Those five were charged with obstructing a police officer and occupying a tent or portable structure in the legislature area, after they failed to leave the encampment.
“The action over the last two days is a specific result of escalating safety concerns from the site,” Winnipeg police Supt. Dave Dalal said at a news conference on Wednesday.
There had been an “erosion of co-operation and an increase in both rhetoric and aggression” from the occupants of the north encampment, as well as a “complete unwillingness to be reasonable” around restricting expansion of the camp, Dalal said.
The site had been adorned with signs and flags highlighting a variety of issues, from the discovery of what are possibly unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools to COVID-19 restrictions and conflict in the Middle East.
That encampment was not associated with another on the east side of the legislature grounds, where a sacred fire has been burning since the discovery of potential unmarked graves in Kamloops last year. The east-side encampment was not dismantled on Tuesday.
Both camps had been ordered to leave the legislature grounds in August.
The five people most recently arrested in connection with the northern encampment range in age from 43 to 54 years of age. Among them are Si Pih Koh, 45, also known as Trina Francois, who made headlines this past summer for singing a Cree song to the tune of O Canada during one of Pope Francis’s stops on his visit to Canada.
While dismantling the encampment, police say they seized body armour and numerous items, including three axes, a hammer, a hatchet, a nearly metre-long club, a spear and a machete, according to Wednesday’s news release.
No weapon possession charges were laid because the items were not being carried and were found inside the structures at the camp, Dalal said. The majority of those arrested have been released with conditions, while others are still going through the release process.
Among those arrested on Tuesday was Phil McLellan, who disputes the police’s version of events.
“The government had no interest in resolving this matter peacefully … they were going to come by and violently arrest everybody no matter what. We tried to negotiate peacefully numerous amounts of times,” he said on Wednesday outside the Winnipeg Police Service headquarters.
Krystal Jensen was arrested on Monday after camp members tried to bring in poles to set up a third teepee.
She said it wasn’t necessary for officers to storm the camp.
“It’s very upsetting because all we were doing was practising our religion and our culture,” she said in an interview on Wednesday.
Both of them dispute the assertion that weapons were found at the camp. They say the axes and machete were tools meant for cutting wood, and the spear is ceremonial and made of wood.
McLellan said the people in the encampment had permission from authorities to have those tools to maintain their sacred fire.
Public information officer Const. Claude Chancy said he couldn’t speak to whether police might have approved the use of axes at some point, before “escalating threats of bodily harm” eventually led police to dismantle the camp.
“Any item within the tent which could have been utilized as a weapon in the event of escalation was seized as evidence,” Chancy said in an email to CBC News.
National Day of Action ‘unfortunate timing’
The fact that the eviction took place on Oct. 4, the National Day of Action for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people, was “unfortunate timing,” said Dalal, but police are duty-bound to act when people are at risk.
“If safety wasn’t compromised … if the choice would have been ours, [Oct. 4] certainly would not have been our first choice,” Winnipeg Police Service Supt. Bonnie Emerson said at Wednesday’s news conference.
“The bottom line is we’re here to facilitate safe, peaceful, lawful protest.”
Emerson said Winnipeg police had reached out to Indigenous leadership on an increasing scale over the last seven days. Since June 1 of this year, Winnipeg police have engaged with encampments on the legislative grounds over 80 times, she said.
The north encampment grew increasingly hostile after it was established in the summer of 2022, according to Emerson, saying that interests of that camp “changed quite a bit.”
This story was originally published at cbc.ca.com. Read it here.