An active protest is underway at the Manitoba Legislature.
The protest, in support of the larger demonstration against COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Ottawa, formally kicked off at 9 a.m.
Police said they’re working with the event’s organizers to ensure the protest remains peaceful.
“The organizers have been pretty open with our members on the ground and pretty co-operative,” said police Chief Danny Smyth.
“We’ll just play it as it comes.”
Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman also called for a peaceful protest, tweeting Thursday evening that he hopes the local event can avoid some of the controversy surrounding the ongoing protest in Ottawa.
City council has already issued a strong condemnation of some of the racist symbolism that was spotted in the nation’s capital this past week, and Bowman said while he respects the right to peaceful protest, he doesn’t want to see any hateful imagery or rhetoric in Winnipeg.
“No elected official can direct the operations of our police service,” Bowman said.
“Winnipeggers have every right to expect that law enforcement will do everything possible to avoid the type of situation currently faced by the residents of Ottawa.”
Bowman also noted Winnipeggers’ freedoms are still intact.
“People have the freedom to get their vaccine, or not. There are consequences, of course, with that, most notably to one’s health,” he said.
“Again, the ability for people to peacefully protest is one that Canadians have the right to expect, where it starts infringing on other Canadians rights, that’s where we will have issues.”
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Downtown businesses near the legislature have been preparing for disruptions, but hoping for a peaceful protest as well.
“I had two cancellations for today, because people were a little bit nervous about coming downtown,” said Mike Timlick, who runs the Auto Centre at the Bay, the business atop the parking structure next to the old Hudson’s Bay building.
“I’m just hoping that this doesn’t last long. By looking at how they’ve got it set up there, it seems that they’ve got it close to the (legislative) building, and you can still have traffic flow coming back and forth on Memorial (Boulevard).
“So far, so good, but let’s see what comes with the rest of the day.”
Timlick told 680 CJOB he respects the rally attendees’ right to protest, and would encourage them to support some downtown businesses that may be impacted by the event.
Additionally, some downtown businesses have chosen to close for the day as a precaution.
One of the protesters, Cecy Echeverria, told Global News her job — pre-pandemic — was packing and moving, but due to restrictions, she isn’t able to go into people’s homes to work.
“I want to get back to work. I haven’t worked for two years. I’m about to lose my house. I need to put food on my table,” she said.
“This is very emotional.”
The expected traffic issues have resulted in Winnipeg Transit rerouting its buses that travel in the areas near the legislative grounds, and patients accessing health services in downtown Winnipeg Friday are being encouraged by Shared Health to plan ahead in order to make their appointments.
— with files from Sam Thompson