Winnipeg protesters surveilled, threatened with arrest by private security firm

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The owner of the Parker Lands is contemplating using a private security firm to arrest protesters camped out on the property in Winnipeg’s Fort Garry area.

Kevin Toyne, the lawyer representing two numbered companies that own the partly-wooded plot of land south of downtown said his clients are willing to move against protesters who’ve set up an encampment on the land.

“The plaintiffs have every right just like every other landowner in the province of Manitoba to take reasonable steps to remove them,” Toyne told CBC on Wednesday night, just a few hours before large diesel-powered lights started to shine over protesters.

The owners also installed security signs and large overhead lights in other areas of the property.

The lights are the latest tactic in a bid to get demonstrators off the land following a failed court attempt to have them removed.

The Parker Lands are located south of Taylor Avenue, west of the Jubilee interchange. Gem Equities, a developer connected to the numbered corporations, acquired it in a controversial land swap with the city.

Parker Lands Winnipeg

Diesel-powered lights now shine over a protester encampment on the Parker Lands. Vandal called the light a well-known intimidation tactic. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

The developer wants to build homes and apartment buildings and has already clear-cut trees on the land, which Jenna Vandal, a Métis-Anishinaabe woman, calls sacred.

Vandal, who didn’t want to be called a protester, but rather a “land defender,” said she’s not intimidated by the lights that now shine on the encampment or threats of arrest.

“We’re not moving.”

Vandal said the core group of 15-20 people camped out on the site have been under constant surveillance by a private security company, which Toyne wouldn’t name.

“They are watching us. There’s always a man sitting in a van at the end of the road with a camera on us, 24/7 now.”

She said she wants a moratorium on clear cutting until the Manitoba Métis Federation and other Indigenous groups are consulted on how they want to see the land used.

‘Good-faith’ duty to consult

“We just want to see the Indigenous people involved in the conversation on how the land is developed or protected.”

She said she recognizes that the developer has no legal obligation to consult with Indigenous peoples about the land like the Crown would, but said there should be a “good-faith” duty to consult.

No trespassing sign Parker Lands

Signs now warn trespassers about 24-hour surveillance at the site. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

“We’re living in the era of reconciliation,” Vandal said adding she wants the City of Winnipeg to get involved in the dispute.

“My job right now is just to protect this land until that happens.”

Lights to shine all night

Toyne wouldn’t say if the lights were brought in so the protesters couldn’t sleep or say what other tactics the security company may employ to get the protesters off the property.

But he said going forward the industrial lights will shine from 9 p.m. through to 6 a.m. 

He’s filed a case with the Manitoba Court of Appeal, which he hopes will overrule a judge’s decision to put off ruling on an injection until November.

Toyne’s also launched a lawsuit on behalf of his clients against Vandal and other protesters.

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