Protesters and the Saskatchewan government presented arguments in court Thursday that could determine the fate of the teepees set up on a lawn in front of the provincial legislature.
Protesters with the Justice For Our Stolen Children Camp have been set up on green space in Regina’s Wascana Centre since February. They are pushing for changes to the province’s justice and child welfare system, both of which have high numbers of Indigenous young people.
Protesters and the provincial government have each launched separate court action over the justice camp.
The province is seeking a court order to have the camp removed, while protesters want a declaration that their camp is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the arrest of six protestors on June 18 was unconstitutional.
In court, both sides began their arguments by defining what they believe the case to be about.
Government lawyer Michael Morris told court the case is not about whether protestors’ have an honourable cause in regards to children in government care.
Morris said the issue is that protestors are “usurping” the province’s authority to regulate the park. Morris said the protestors’ freedom of expression does not give them carte blanche to occupy land indefinitely.
The protestors’ lawyer Dan LeBlanc argued the case is about the government’s attempt to quash uncomfortable truths and people’s right to use powerful symbols to convey a message.
LeBlanc says Provincial Capital Comission passed bylaws for Wascana Park the purpose of banning expressive activity of protestors. <a href=”https://t.co/WAQ1pMLNLL”>https://t.co/WAQ1pMLNLL</a>
LeBlanc told court the protesters express themselves through forms like erecting teepees and burning a sacred fire.
He characterized the protesters’ actions as political speech in regards to the justice and child welfare systems, saying the Wascana Park bylaws do not make exceptions for this kind of speech.
LeBlanc also argued the bylaws do not strike a balance with the actions of June 18, where Regina police arrested six people and the Provincial Capital Commission dismantled the lone teepee.
The protesters’ legal counsel told court on Thursday that police caved to the mounting political pressure from the provincial government and PCC when it arrested demonstrators.
Court heard that, according to the provincial government, the park’s west lawn is a popular spot, and to date nine events have had to be relocated.
Prescott Demas, one of the original campers, accused the provincial government of hiding behind bylaws rather than confront the issues protesters are attempting to draw attention to.
“This is an issue that is not singular — this is a systemic issue that 151 years of it’s going through,” Demas said.
“It’s going to give us an opportunity for our voices to be heard,” he added of the court process.
“Whether it’s through the justice system or the child welfare system, our children are important for us and that’s why we’re here,” said Richelle Dubois, a long-time protest camp regular.
Dubois’ son Haven died in 2015, his death ruled an accidental drowning. Dubois has been calling for an inquiry into his death.
In June, police arrested six protesters seated inside a teepee at the camp and the camp was dismantled. The camp wants declarations from the court that the protest is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that the arrest of six protesters in June was unconstitutional. The camp was later re-established with several more teepees than its original state.
“We continue to remain optimistic there will be positive change,” Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, said Thursday.
“We continue to stand here as long as it’s going to take to make positive change. We’re hoping the best decision happens here this morning, in favour of First Nations people, in favour of what this movement has been focusing on the last 177 days.”
Police will follow court decision
Meanwhile, the provincial government is asking the court to direct the campers to “cease occupying the Land.” It also wants the Regina Police Service to carry out any court orders to have the camp removed.
Bray previously told reporters police do not intend to take down the camp unless it starts to pose a threat to public safety.
Since the provincial government applied for a court order, Bray has said the service’s next move will depend on the outcome of the court action.
A Regina Police Service spokesperson said Bray will attend Thursday’s hearing.