Durocher, province in court over Wascana protest camp
REGINA -- The Government of Saskatchewan is seeking a court order against Tristen Durocher and his fellow demonstrators, after more than a month of camping out on the legislative grounds.
The suicide prevention advocate and his supporters arrived at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on July 31. Durocher erected a tipi and has been camping on the grounds ever since, in hopes of sending a message to the province that more needs to be done for suicide prevention.
Durocher was in the courtroom, along with legal representation for the province, the Regina Police Service, the Attorney General and his own legal counsel.
The province’s lawyers presented their arguments first in the morning, arguing that it is the government’s right to maintain and regulate the land in Wascana Park, no matter how honourable the cause. They said the protestors must comply with the bylaws in place.
Michael Morris, the government’s lawyer, said if the court order is granted, it does not mean the protestors cannot return to the legislative grounds and continue their advocacy. The group would have to apply for the proper permits and would have to follow bylaws that are in place.
Morris said the province has received complaints about the inference the camp has caused in the park. He said there have been complaints about air quality due to the ongoing fire, as well as complaints that other planned events have been impacted by the space being used.
Throughout the province’s argument, the Justice for Our Stolen Children camp in 2018 was referenced several times. In that case, the protestors were ordered out of the park by the court.
Morris highlighted the comparisons between the two camps, including the erected tipi, the camping out and the burning fire. All are being done without permits.
He also noted that when the province was made aware that Durocher was coming to the legislative grounds, they made effort to contact him multiple times. They invited him to have a conversation, but Morris said Durocher did not respond.
He added that Durocher was made aware several times about the bylaws being broken.
WALKING WITH OUR ANGELS
Michael Seed, who is part of the team representing Durocher, spoke before the courtroom broke for lunch.
He argued the order that was filed in 2018 against the Justice for our Stolen Children camp was extremely broad in who it applies to. He noted it applies to a broad amount of people doing a wide amount of activities.
He also said although there are several similarities between Durocher’s camp and the 2018 camp, there are key differences. Those include the fact that there is only one tipi erected in the park, and that Durocher has been clear all along that he does have an end date.
He said all along, Durocher believes his actions have been constitutional.
“Durocher does believe that he’s not unlawfully breaking the bylaws,” Seed said.
He said the order discourages people from political expression at the heart of government decision making in the province.
In response to those points, Jared Biden, who is representing the province, said even if Durocher has sincere belief that he is acting constitutionally, it does not excuse the fact that bylaws are being broken.
Later, Eleanore Sunchild, who is representing Durocher, said he did not apply for a permit because he didn’t believe any exceptions would be made that would allow him to carry out his 44 day ceremony.
She said the 44 days represents the 44 Saskatchewan MLAs who voted against a proposed suicide prevention bill.
“[Suicide] hits close to home for him,” Sunchild said. “He wants the rest of the world to know the truth about the high rates of suicide, especially in northern Saskatchewan.”
She explained that he was first impacted by suicide at the age of eight and several times after that.
Sunchild said the actions of Durocher and the others are the camp are constitutional because they fall under the rights of freedom of religious practices, expression and peaceful assembly.
She said many aspects of the camp including the fasting, the prayer, the ceremonial fire and the smudge ceremonies are ways of expressing his religious beliefs and practices.
Demonstration has been welcomed and encouraged in Wascana Park in the past, Sunchild added, saying that should be a case for Indigenous demonstration as well.
Finally, she emphasized that he only has nine days left of his ceremony and believes the court should allow him to conclude peacefully.
After hearing from both sides throughout the day on Friday, Justice Graeme Mitchell decided to reserve his decision until next week.
He said he was presented with a lot of information and he wants to take his time in making a decision, but also said he recognizes Durocher’s demonstration is scheduled to last nine more days.