WINNIPEG – Police are speaking out after a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline shutdown Portage and Main during the afternoon rush hour on Tuesday.
Protesters took to the four corners of the intersection before flooding into the centre at around 5:00 p.m. Winnipeg Police blocked off the intersection and it remained closed until just after 6:30 p.m. as hockey fans were making their way to MTS Centre for the game between the Winnipeg Jets and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Groups of protesters moved west down Portage Avenue, prompting closures in that direction as well.
Police spokesperson, Const. Rob Carver, who is a member of the Crowd Management Unit, says there is a fine balance when it comes to people’s rights.
“I have the right to assembly and I have the right to peacefully protest – I don’t necessarily have the right to block traffic,” Carver said. “So, those are two competing rights and part of our job is to somehow balance those two competing rights with the rights of hundreds of motorists who are trying to get home or trying to get to a Jet game with the rights of individual to make a political statement.”
Carver was off duty and actually among the many stuck in the gridlock that resulted from the protest and while many are asking why police did not arrest or ticket the protesters or remove them from the road, Carver says the use of force against protesters is an absolute last resort.
“I was inconvenienced myself, it’s not an easy thing, but neither is using force on someone who isn’t doing anything, at that point, to endanger themselves or others,” Carver said.
Carver said using force could escalate the situation into something dangerous that could harm the protesters, the public and police officers.
“The last thing we want to do is use force to remove people who are peacefully demonstrating, but doing it in a way that’s inconveniencing,” Carver said.
The Dakota Access pipeline is set to stretch from North Dakota through to Illinois, passing through four states and 50 counties, transporting approximately 450,000 barrels of crude a day.
A months-long protest has been waged against the pipeline, with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe at the heart of the fight. The tribe says the pipeline will desecrate sacred land and potentially contaminate water supplies.