Vehicles lined Highway 32 south of Winkler, Man. for a three-day series of what organizers called Freedom Rallies.

Karl Krebs, the rally organizer, says the groundswell movement of support has come in heavy and hard as a result of the recent mask and vaccination mandates from Public Health.

"We had a lot of people there, and what we saw was a unanimous endorsement to bring Winkler under a protection that we believe exists," said Krebs. "It's precedented in history, it's precedented in Old Testament, we heard a lot about it in the United States with the cities that declared themselves to be sanctuary cities. We believe we could re-purpose that concept for good and provide a hedge of protection around this community that desperately needs to be protected."

Krebs added, a draft proposal that will be sent to the City of Winkler for consideration was revealed on Monday night to those in attendance at the third and final rally.

"People are at their breaking point and I'm concerned that we can stop the bleeding, that we need to triage our community and provide that protection like in the old days where someone could seek sanctuary and know that they are not in danger any further," said Krebs.

"So basically, a sanctuary city would work on this function: We would declare ourselves to be a sanctuary city and declare in that ordinance all the things that we believe the community stands for and needs protection from. So, we are not anti-vaccination. We are not anti-mask-wearing. We are simply saying those who choose to not do it have the right. And the City declares that right."

A picture shows a very large crowd of people standing and watching speakers at the eventHundreds of people gathered at the events.

Krebs offered his thoughts on what he thinks this will mean for the City of Winkler.

"And if we declare ourselves a sanctuary city, we bring our Winkler police force under that protection as well, so that we say we're not enforcing these mandates, they're not in law," he said. "You're trampling all over our Charter of Rights and Freedoms that was given to us many, many years ago. It has not been revoked. It still stands. So, we're not asking for anything that we didn't previously have. We're asking for those rights to be reinstated and to be properly played out in our lives, that allow us as individuals to do that in this community," added Krebs.

Mayor's response

Mayor Martin Harder issued a statement on behalf of Winkler City Council on Monday afternoon. Below is the statement in full.

"The City of Winkler Council is aware of a significant sized group within the City of Winkler and surrounding area who have expressed concerns with recent Manitoba Public Health orders. We realize that many people may feel that their voices have not been heard. That is disappointing to us. As Council it is important to us that everyone have a voice. There are both formal and informal ways to exercise that voice. One of those ways is to host a public demonstration. We ask that if citizens choose that route, that it be respectful of public health orders, fellow citizens and property. Requests for action by the City of Winkler should be sent directly to council for review and consideration. In times like this we have the opportunity to either grow, or hurt Winkler’s reputation on the provincial, national and world stage. When we politely and firmly share our concerns in a manner that is safe to all, we have an opportunity to influence those we wish to reach."

COVID poses real real concerns: MLA

Minister of Justice, and MLA for Morden-Winkler, Cameron Friesen, also issued a statement on Monday. Below is the statement in full:

I am aware of some local rallies that have been organized by groups opposed to public health orders. I acknowledge that the past year and a half has been a very long journey for all Manitobans, including my constituents. The pandemic has left no one untouched.

There’s a lot of misinformation circulating in our communities. It’s very important for people to get the facts and to have accurate information, and not just go with the flow.

Our government continues to respect the right of those people who choose not to receive the vaccine, even though the evidence continues to show that the COVID-19 vaccine is the most effective way to protect yourself and others, and avoid hospitalization.

As a matter of fact, on a single day last week in Southern Health, 13 out of 14 new cases were people who did not receive a vaccine.

We are all anxious to leave this pandemic behind. But we must acknowledge that the Delta variant poses a real concern for another surge of cases, as we are seeing in the States and provinces around North America. We are not yet out of the woods, as difficult as that is for all of us to accept. We are working hard to promote the vaccines to groups who are hesitant, by working with doctors, pharmacists, and religious and community leaders.

Our use of mobile clinics in Morden and Winkler and the surrounding area has been an effective way to lower barriers, overcome reluctance and connect people with the vaccine. The reluctance by some people in our community to get vaccinated is very real, but condemnation and harsh judgement will do no good. What is needed is a willingness to reach out, show empathy and understanding as a community, to address the challenges, work together and move forward.