A convoy has set up space south of Dugald, Man., this weekend, about 20 km east of Winnipeg, where hundreds from across the country are expected to come together at what is being dubbed “Camp Hope.”
Many within the Manitoba convoy say they were previously part of the so-called freedom convoy in early 2022, which choked downtown Ottawa and blocked border crossings in protest of COVID-19 mandates.
The Manitoba convoy was set up just a day after the Emergencies Act inquiry’s final report was tabled in the House of Commons, which found the federal government met the threshold to use it last year. Organizers say their event is different from the Ottawa blockade, which ended a year ago.
“Camp Hope is not here to tear the government down. We are not here to block roads,” Camp Hope owner Walter Hiebert told CBC on Saturday.
“Camp Hope has nothing to do with the convoy…. That was pushing the mandates; this is what we bring. People back together and bringing groups back together and bringing peace.”
Hiebert, who said he was pepper sprayed twice during the blockade in Ottawa, owns the 50-acre property. He said the event was to “bring hope” to those who are suffering, as many families, including his own, have been impacted by suicide.
“God put it on my heart to build Camp Hope … there are so many lost souls right now,” he said.
In an email to CBC, Manitoba RCMP said they are aware of the Dugald convoy and are working in collaboration with Winnipeg police to ensure safety and to prepare for a possible increased number of vehicles on nearby highways.
The group has been in “constant communication” with law enforcement, who visit the camp a few times a day, said Hiebert.
“We want to protect the police. The police want to protect us. We want to work together with them and try to restore Canada.”
Peace, love, unity: Organizer
James Bauder, co-founder of the group Canada Unity and a co-organizer of last year’s protest in Ottawa, previously announced a “Freedom Convoy 2.0” in January, which was intended to take place in Winnipeg.
Bauder later said in a Facebook post that he was cancelling the event due to unspecified security reasons. The event was meant to draw attendees from across the country to the heart of the continent, which Hiebert said is a goal of Camp Hope’s.
“We are here to bring people back together, to peace, love and unity,” he told CBC Saturday.
Hundreds are expected to be in attendance and a steady stream of people, including families with children, were seen entering the camp premises while CBC was there. Speeches, musical events and workshops were planned for the day.
Rules are in place at the camp to prevent people from using drugs and alcohol, Hiebert said, and there have been no incidents thus far.
“We want to do this in peace,” he said. “The whole world is watching.”
Province considered Emergencies Act ‘overreach’
On Friday, commissioner of the Emergencies Act inquiry Paul Rouleau said “a failure in policing and federalism” created conditions that met the very high threshold needed to invoke the Emergencies Act last winter.
He called out police and the Ontario government for missteps in their responses, saying moments of urgency require leaders of governments at all levels “to rise above politics and collaborate for the common good.”
“Unfortunately, in January and February of 2022, this did not always happen,” he wrote.
It was the first time the law had been triggered since it was created in 1988.
Manitoba Minister of Justice Kelvin Goertzen said at a Friday press conference that the province considered use of the act to be “overreach.”
“Our position to the federal government remains that, in Manitoba, we did not need the powers of the Emergencies Act,” he said.
A protest site in downtown Winnipeg initially formed in early 2022 in response to the federal government’s imposition of a vaccination mandate for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border, but drew in a wide array of groups disaffected by COVID-19 health restrictions.
The protest was eventually disassembled, as well as a blockade in Emerson, Man., about 110 km south of Winnipeg on the Canada/U.S. border, which Goertzen credited to the work of Manitoba RCMP and Winnipeg police.
Protests are part of a democratic society, but Goertzen said the province would not accept any more blockades.
“People have the right to protest, but that right doesn’t extend to disrupting the lives of others.”
In response to the Emergencies Act inquiry’s final report, Hiebert said only that he was “praying for government.”
Coalition forms, opposes convoy
A new coalition made up of nearly two dozen community and church groups, unions and organizations was established in Winnipeg earlier this week and expressed concern over the Dugald convoy, but said no counter-protests are planned for this weekend.
Community Solidarity Manitoba was launched at an event held Thursday at Broadway Disciples United Church to address social and racial inequities, as well as gaps in health care for Manitobans.
The group urged the province and city of Winnipeg to ensure the health and safety of all Manitobans and prevent the people gathered in Dugald from spreading symbols and epithets of hate, as they said happened during last year’s protests in Winnipeg.
“Freedom of assembly does not extend to targeted harassment,” said coalition spokesperson Diwa Marcelino.
At the end of the event, a man not connected to the coalition brandished a picture of a swastika and urged onlookers to “do some really good journalism” on the meaning of the symbol beyond Nazi Germany. He declined to give his name and was asked to leave by the church minister.
Hiebert asserted the message of the weekend convoy is one of peace and love. He said that only the Canadian and Camp Hope flags are allowed to be flown and people were abiding by the rules.
“We are here to welcome each and every one. If they don’t follow the rules of Camp Hope they’ll be asked to leave the premises.”
Camp Hope is expected to wrap up by Tuesday. Hiebert said their intent is to bring people together rather than fight the government.
“We can stand together. We don’t need to fight,” he said.
“We are trying to save our nation.”