The organizer of an illegal rally against public health measures at The Forks last month is set to return for another one next week, and an MLA is calling on the province to get an injunction before the rally.
Chris Saccoccia, who is more commonly known as Chris Sky, was arrested in Toronto on Wednesday and charged with threatening to shoot people and assaulting a police officer, the Toronto Police Service said in a news release. Advertisements shared on social media state Saccoccia plans to speak at another rally at the Forks in Winnipeg on May 28.
In the Legislature on Wednesday, Manitoba NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine called on justice officials, including Justice Minister Cameron Friesen, to intervene.
“Will they seek a court injunction and support small businesses so we don’t have small businesses closing again and workers off again?” Fontaine said.
In a statement on Thursday, The Forks said they have nothing to do with organizing the event.
“We have not been asked for, nor would we provide, permission for any events that contravene current public health guidelines,” Clare MacKay, vice-president of strategic initiatives and executive director of The Forks Foundation, said in an email.
“We have alerted the provincial public health regulators and the City of Winnipeg Police Service about the event.”
Arrest in Toronto
Saccocia had allegedly threatened to shoot several people during a phone conversation on May 12, and that was reported to Toronto police on May 19. When police went to arrest Saccoccia at a residence in the York Region, he got into his vehicle and tried to drive away, police said.
When police tried to block the vehicle and an officer got out to approach Saccoccia, he allegedly drove at the officer, forcing him to jump out of the way.
Saccoccia then allegedly sped away from the officers.
He has been charged with three counts of uttering death threats, assaulting a police officer with a weapon and dangerous driving. He is scheduled to appear in court Thursday.
Saccoccia is a resident of King City township north of Toronto. Last month, he was travelling across the country at a time when some provinces, including Manitoba and Ontario, are imposing interprovincial travel restrictions.
He received two individual fines of $1,296 for his involvement in the rally at The Forks on April 25. The event, one of several at the site in recent weeks, drew hundreds of people in violation of public health orders restricting public gatherings, forcing businesses at The Forks market to close.
During a news conference Thursday, Premier Brian Pallister was asked about the possibility of an injunction.
“I haven’t had discussions on injunctions,” Pallister said, adding he has been clear about his displeasure for those rallies but cannot tell the justice system what to do.
“I certainly would hope that additional enforcement measures will be applied to this idiot that wants to continually go around and encourage people to be idiots with him,” he said.
But Pallister’s justice minister, Cameron Friesen, said court injunctions are an option his office is continuing to consider.
“It is a balancing act, of course,” Friesen said, while acknowledging people’s right to protest. “At this point in time, we’re saying there is some curtailing of those abilities to gather.”
In this pandemic, Nova Scotia has been the only province granted a court injunction which bans groups from staging illegal gatherings in defiance of public health orders.
Friesen wouldn’t explain why Manitoba hasn’t requested an injunction, but he suggested “no one could imply that somehow the [enforcement] actions undertaken by our government have not been significant.”
He said Manitoba has issued more fines on a per-capita basis than any province in the country.
Last month, Thunder Bay police charged Saccoccia under Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act after an anti-restrictions rally in the northwestern Ontario city.
Saccoccia was arrested and charged with breach of an undertaking.
In addition to making anti-restrictions statements, Saccoccia, under the name Chris Sky, has posted antisemitic messages on Facebook.