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. (Stephanie Taylor/CBC) 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.
"This case is not about whether the protestors are advocating for an honourable cause. It is not about whether there are too many Indigenous children in foster care. It is not about whether the criminal justice system is fair for Indigenous people," Michael Morris, a lawyer representing the provincial government told the court.
"This case is about the government’s ability to regulate, administer and maintain land on Wascana Centre," he said.
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 otherwise.
"This case is about the freedom to speak," he said.
"This case is about government attempts to quash speech, which is uncomfortable, speech which is inconvenient."
He argued the protesters are expressing themselves through forms like erecting teepees and burning a sacred fire.
He characterized the protesters’ actions as political speech — which he said ought to be afforded high protection — 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.
"[The government] were like a dog with a bone. They wanted these protestors out of their life," lawyer Meara Conway said.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 […]
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