Those protesting COVID-19 restrictions in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly say they are doing so peacefully, but the executive director of the Women’s Health Clinic vehemently disagrees.
Kemlin Nembhard says she is simply asking protesters to show humanity, after clinic clients and staff were shouted at and harassed by protesters, along with convoy vehicles displaying offensive signs and “incessant horns” during the demonstration.
“We serve a lot of clients who are the most marginalized, and as a woman of color that makes me feel unsafe – and I have agency. I can only imagine how that makes someone feel. ‘one that has less agency,’ Nembhard said.
Many of the women the clinic helps have difficulty accessing care, she told reporters on Tuesday outside the clinic, located on Graham Avenue between Vaughan and Kennedy streets in downtown Winnipeg, a few blocks from the seat of the Legislative Assembly.
Hate symbols and images have also been displayed by protesters in Manitoba and elsewhere — another hurdle for clinic clients, Nembhard added.
“If you are scared because you see hate symbols flying all around you…what does that mean for your safety and what does that mean in terms of being able to access the services you need? That’s just unacceptable,” she said.
Clients who had difficulty navigating the city center due to the convoy blocking sections of streets told the clinic that protesters hurled offensive language at them, whether or not they were wearing masks.
Despite these issues, Nembhard said she was not aware of any canceled clinic appointments.
Pointing out that some anti-vaccine protesters carry signs with messages such as “my body, my choice,” Nembhard said she would ask them to respect the choices of her customers and staff.
“People have a choice whether to get vaccinated or not. You have a choice whether to wear a mask or not. You just have to take responsibility for your actions,” she said.
As a feminist agency, Nembhard says the clinic supports the right to protest — as long as it’s done peacefully.
“But it’s not a protest. It’s an occupation and it’s an illegal occupation,” she said.
“It’s not peaceful when you harass people. It’s not peaceful if people don’t feel safe.”
Nembhard called the protesters’ actions “clearly illegal” and said she believed it was time for the government to intervene.
“It’s time for the Prime Minister, along with Mayor Bowman, to do something about this, as if the rest of us are being held hostage by this very vocal minority,” she said.
Protesters are content to stay put
Devon Ross has been among the protesters outside the Legislature since the anti-restrictions convoy arrived in Winnipeg on Friday morning.
Ross told CBC News he felt bad for local residents and businesses, but said the group he aligned with was repeatedly shunned.
“There are people who get rejected because they can’t do what they believe in, and it’s not fair to them,” Ross said.
“If they want to stand up for what they think is right and it’s causing them inconvenience for a few weeks, then so be it.”
If the protest persists, Ross said he’s ready to bring a tent, propane heater and generator and start camping until protesters’ demands are met.
Raymond Garand, who also arrived to protest on Friday, said the public should be patient.
“I’m sure they can handle a little noise for a little while. There are fire trucks and ambulances making as much noise as we do every day,” he said.
“People, bear with us. We’re trying to make a difference, that’s all we do.”
City center open: BIZ
As protesters take over part of the area, the director of communications for the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Area said some businesses are struggling due to a lack of customers.
Pam Hardman said the main concerns she hears from businesses are related to noise levels and potential accessibility.
She noted that one business’s revenue has dropped about 30% since the protests began, but Hardman wants people to know that downtown is open.
“We know downtown businesses are being impacted because there’s a perception of not coming downtown right now,” Hardman said.
“But it’s not really necessary because it’s open and it’s accessible and it’s always easy to walk or drive or bus, and there is parking and accessibility to the center -city.”