The Winnipeg developer who owns the Parker neighbourhood claims police aren’t doing enough to remove protesters — including one in possession of an axe and several wearing masks — from an encampment on his Fort Garry property.
Lawyers representing developer Andrew Marquess and his company Gem Equities will appear in court Wednesday in an attempt to remove protesters from an unserviced triangle of land that makes most of the Parker neighbourhood. Marquess acquired the 24-hectare property in 2009 from the City of Winnipeg in exchange for a smaller parcel of serviced land in the former Fort Rouge Yards.
Marquess plans to convert most of Parker into a residential development called Oak Grove. In 2016, consultants working for Gem unveiled a conceptual plan that included high-density towers, medium-density low-rise buildings and low-density townhouses and single-family homes, extending away from a Southwest Transitway station plaza in concentric circles.
Before Gem can proceed, city council must approve an area plan, rezonings and development plans, all of which are bound to face opposition from area residents who oppose the destruction of aspen forests on the property — and protesters who set up camp last week, when Gem began clearing trees from the site.
On Thursday, Gem’s lawyers initiated legal action to remove the protesters, accusing them of trespassing and delaying work necessary to begin construction on the land.
In a supplementary motion brief, Gem’s lawyers claim the Winnipeg Police Service has failed to remove protesters who’ve been asked to leave repeatedly.
“Instead of enforcing the law, the Winnipeg Police Service has failed to remove the trespassers and even granted them permission to have fires on the plaintiffs’ property,” lawyers Kevin Toyne and Dave Hill state in the motion.
“The basis for the special treatment being accorded to the trespassers by the police is currently unknown, although one of the organizers is the daughter of a prominent former member of city council and now sitting member of parliament.”
‘No due process’
The lawyers are referring to Jenna Vandal, daughter of former St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal, who’s now the Liberal MP for Saint Boniface-Saint Vital.
“I expected that this would happen,” Jenna Vandal said Tuesday in an interview, referring to the court action. She said she is protesting the development of a natural area located near the former site of Rooster Town, a Métis community that encompassed part of the Grant Park neighbourhood, to the north, from the 1930s to 1950s.
“There was no due process before this 2009 land swap happened,” she said, referring to the findings of a 2014 audit of Winnipeg real-estate transactions. It concluded the city failed to conduct an appraisal of the Parker lands before exchanging those lands for part of Gem’s Fort Rouge property.
‘We have no weapons’
Toyne and Hill also allege in their supplementary motion that some of the Parker protesters are wearing masks to conceal their identities — and claim one protester followed Gem employee Chris Snelgrove around the site with an axe on Friday.
In an affidavit, Snelgrove claimed he “asked the trespasser following me with the axe to put it down. He did not do so and I was mocked by the trespassers for making this request. The trespassers claimed the axe was being used to remove tree stumps to prevent them from inuring themselves while they trespass.”
This allegation has not been proven in court. Vandal said the axe was being used to chop wood for a fire.
“He was just holding the axe after chopping wood,” she said. “We have no weapons on site. It’s been the most peaceful protest, the whole time.”
Toyne insisted that an axe is a weapon.
“It’s a weapon that has a blade on it,” he said Tuesday in an interview. “It’s currently unknown how many other weapons are currently being hidden in the illegal encampment.”
Wednesday’s hearing is slated for 10 a.m. Vandal, one of four protesters named in the motion, said she intends to represent herself.
A 2014 environmental review conducted by the city before work started on the second phase of the Southwest Transitway described the Parker lands “as a mix of open grassland with small patches of oak, aspen woods and moist depressions of cattails, dogwood and willows.”
The study found no rare plant species on the site, but did note the presence of impressive bur oaks and peachleaf willows and several stands of showy milkweed, a vital food source for monarch butterflies.
The study also said the moist patches of the site were likely to serve as habitat for northern leopard frogs, while the trees could serve as “temporary feeding or resting areas” for peregrine falcons, which are endangered, as well as other bird species of concern.