Those protesting COVID-19 restrictions at the Manitoba legislature 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 for protesters to show humanity, after reports clinic clients and staff members have been yelled at and harassed by protesters, along with convoy vehicles displaying offensive signs and the “incessant honking” at the protest.
“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 what makes somebody who has less agency feel like,” Nembhard said.
Many of the women the clinic helps have difficulty accessing care, she told reporters Tuesday outside of the clinic, located on Graham Avenue between Vaughan Street and Kennedy Street in Winnipeg’s downtown, just blocks away from the legislature grounds.
There have also been symbols and images of hate displayed by protesters in Manitoba and elsewhere—another barrier for the clinic’s clients, Nembhard added.
“If you are scared because you are seeing symbols of hate flying all around you … what does that say to your safety and what does that say in terms of being able to get access to the services that you need? It’s just unacceptable, “she said.
Clients who have had difficulty navigating downtown as a result of the convoy blocking off stretches of streets have told the clinic that protesters have hurled offensive language at them, regardless of whether or not they were wearing masks.
Despite those issues, Nembhard said she isn’t aware of any clinic appointments that have been cancelled.
Pointing out that some anti-vaccine protesters have signs with messages such as “my body, my choice,” Nembhard said she would ask them to respect the choices of her clients and staff.
“People have a choice to get vaccinated or not. You have a choice to wear a mask or not. You just need to take the responsibility for your actions,” she said.
As a feminist agency, Nembhard says the clinic is in favor of the right to protest — as long as it is done peacefully.
“But this is not a protest. This is an occupation and it’s an illegal occupation,” she said.
“It’s not peaceful when you are harassing people. It’s not peaceful if people feel unsafe.”
Nembhard called the actions of the protesters “clearly illegal,” and said she believes it’s time for government to step in.
“It’s time for the premier, as well as Mayor Bowman, to actually do something about it, like the rest of us are being held hostage by this really vocal minority,” she said.
Protesters happy to stay put
Devon Ross has been among the protesters outside the legislature since the anti-restrictions convoy rolled into Winnipeg on Friday morning.
Ross told CBC News he feels bad for local residents and businesses, but says the group he has aligned himself with has been shunned repeatedly.
“There’s people that are getting shunned for not being able to do what they believe in, and that’s not fair to them,” Ross said.
“If they want to stand up for what they think is right and it’s causing them an inconvenience for a few weeks, then so be it.”
If the protest persists, Ross said he’s prepared to bring a tent, propane heater and generator and start camping out until the protesters’ demands are met.
Raymond Garand, who also arrived Friday to protest, said the public needs to be patient.
“I’m sure that they can put up with a little bit of noise for a little while. There’s fire trucks and ambulances going around that make as much noise as we do every day,” he said.
“People, be patient with us. We are trying to make a difference, that’s all we’re doing.”
Downtown open: BIZ
With protesters taking over part of the area, the communications director with the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone said some businesses are struggling due to a lack of customers.
Pam Hardman said the biggest concerns she is hearing from businesses are related to noise levels and potential accessibility.
She noted one business’s revenue is down about 30 per cent since the protests started, but Hardman wants people to be aware that the downtown core is open.
“We know that businesses downtown are impacted because there is a perception not to come downtown right now,” Hardman said.
“But that’s not really necessary because it’s open and it’s accessible and it’s still easy to get here on foot or by car or by bus, and there is parking and accessibility downtown.”