REGINA — A Saskatchewan judge has ordered a group of protesters to remove their teepees from the lawn outside the provincial legislature.
Protesters started camping at the site at the end of February to bring attention to racial injustice and the disproportionate number of First Nations children in care. A few protesters were removed by police in June but the camp was set up again two days later and officers have held off ever since.
The province went to court seeking an order to evict the protesters, arguing the camp violated bylaws and made it hard to maintain the land across from the legislature.
Justice Ysanne Wilkinson agreed, saying society achieves more through order than disorder.
“The protesters’ claim to a right to encamp around the clock, on a permanent or indefinite basis … is not one that can be endorsed by this court,” she wrote in a ruling released Friday.
“The protesters’ occupation of the west lawn, in the shadow of the most influential building in the province, although claimed in pursuit of heartfelt grievances, serves in the end to diminish the rights of all others to access the space and to enjoy the same fundamental freedoms and values claimed by the occupiers.”
She also dismissed an application by six protesters to have their arrests in June declared unlawful. None of the six were ever charged by police.
“Police are hereby authorized to arrest, or arrest and remove, any person” who is violating the order to vacate the camp, Wilkinson said.
The protesters, occupying about 15 teepees on the site, were consulting with their lawyers and were expected to respond later Friday.
One of their lawyers, Dan LeBlanc, had argued in court that the case revolved around freedom of speech.
He said the protestors have 30 days to decide whether or not to appeal to a higher court. He anticipated the camp would be dismantled before then, although there will likely be discussions about how it should be taken down.
“We hope there’s some allowances from government to allow the camp to be dismantled in a culturally appropriate way,” he said.
Central Services Minister Ken Cheveldayoff said in a statement that the government is pleased with the ruling.
“We expect the Justice for our Stolen Children Camp will abide by the court order and remove the teepees and other structures from Wascana Centre within a reasonable time,” he wrote.
“We are fully supportive of peaceful protests but the act of overnight camping, burning combustibles and erecting structures in the park cannot be done without the proper permits and approvals, as confirmed by today’s court order.”
— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton
The Canadian Press