BUSINESS

Occupy Winnipeg Taken Down As Police Say Fires Pose Safety Risk

12/21/2011 10:34 EST | Updated 02/20/2012 05:12 EST
Flickr: marygkosta
WINNIPEG - Conservation officers and police on Wednesday dismantled the three remaining tents at the Occupy Winnipeg site — believed to be the last camp in a major Canadian city.

Authorities moved in before dawn and met no resistance as they told protesters their camp was being removed due to safety concerns.

"We were told to leave and ... we were detained by the police while they dismantled everything," protester Terry Weaymouth said.

The camp, in a small provincial park across from the Manitoba legislature, was a shell of its former self. There were dozens of tents when the protest started in mid-October. But as temperatures dipped, many protesters left the site, usually for overnight stays in warmer surroundings.

In recent weeks, conservation officers routinely visited the site and required protesters to remove any unoccupied tents. Two empty ones were set on fire on separate occasions — by passersby, Weaymouth said.

By last weekend, the number of tents had dwindled to three. But Weaymouth and his two remaining colleagues were proud that the Winnipeg camp was still standing while others in Toronto, Vancouver and elsewhere had been shut down by authorities. Calgary protesters had left their site on their own hours before a court-imposed deadline.

The most recent fire, set last week among hay bales serving as a wind break, was apparently the final straw for conservation officers.

"They said because of that, this place is no longer safe and we had to go," Weaymouth said.

There were no confrontations as officials took down the tents. Protesters were told they could retrieve their items later in the day.

Manitoba Conservation Minister Dave Chomiak said the government respected the right of the campers to protest, but acted on advice received this week.

"There was a notification from the fire commissioner that the conditions were unsafe," Chomiak said.

"We felt that, for the safety of the people there, and perhaps others, it would be appropriate to end the occupation."

The protesters were scheduled to meet Wednesday night to plan their next move, but Chomiak cautioned that the province would not tolerate any immediate return to the park.

"Right now, if they were to try to set up their tents, we wouldn't allow it at this point."

The crackdown came weeks after the evictions of Occupy camps in other major cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. The Winnipeg protesters had vowed to brave the city's notoriously cold winters by adding insulation and heating devices to their tents. They also built a large yurt-like structure where they could huddle together.