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On February 6th, Portage Place Mall, located in the low income downtown area of Winnipeg, began enforcing a strict no loitering policy. A bouncer now stands guard to remove even paying customers from the food court after 30 minutes, heavily limiting use of the once bustling public space in a month where temperatures regularly drop below -20C.
Only 7 years ago, people successfully assembled to overturn a similar policy. In February 2016, Elder and war veteran, Joseph Meconse was kicked out of the food court for loitering. A round-dance was organized inside the mall and attended by 200 people to protest the restriction of their gathering space. Facing a public relations disaster, Portage Place Management quickly backed down from the policy.
In a recent North Star interview, an organizer of the 2016 round-dance said, "We fired a letter to management- we didn't want to make it a community social issue. But they refused to [listen to our demands]. This round-dance was to bring awareness to this [new policy]...In order to save face that Portage Place is still a welcoming place, they had a big apology."
The 2016 policy allowed patrons to sit in the mall for 30 minutes if they had not yet bought food or drink. Now 7 years later, Portage Place Management has opted for an even stricter policy - forcing people to pay to sit at all, and kicking those who do out after 30 minutes.
Portage Place has historically been a space for Winnipeg's workers and homeless alike to rest, socialize, wait for busses, use the bathroom, and take refuge from the city's extreme seasonal temperatures. The surrounding downtown area, composed mostly of business and office spaces offers very few alternatives.
Outside Portage Place, North Star journalists met a couple who had been kicked out twice the day before for sitting in the mall without purchasing food or drink. "What if an Elder or a granny wants to sit down to rest? She'll get kicked out too. That's crazy. We like to share a coffee, we don't normally buy two but we bought two today so we could sit together."
"They don't care, they're in it for themselves. Just money, money, money...Sometimes it's freezing and there's nowhere to sit. Where are you going to go to warm up? You have to sit down, it's good to warm up. You could freeze to death and no one would notice. It seems like they don't give a shit."