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Winter doesn't deter Occupy protesters in Winnipeg

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news Grand Forks, 58203
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

WINNIPEG -- Winnipeg's reputation as one of the coldest cities in North America is not deterring a small, hardy bunch of Occupy protesters.

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While camps in other cities have been dismantled, evicted or simply withered away, the tiny encampment in Winnipeg still stands despite blowing snow and subzero temperatures that will only dip lower in the coming weeks.

"I think insanity maybe drives some people to come out here in the cold," Kristaps Balodis said Tuesday from underneath layers of clothes and outside one of five tents set up in a small park across from the Manitoba legislature.

"But I think more than that; it's people who really want to see a change and are that dedicated and that serious."

Unlike Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and other Occupy camps in Canada, Winnipeg protesters have not been threatened with eviction. Members are engaged in a back-and-forth tussle over rules with the Manitoba government, which manages the park. But the dialogue has never been heated and no one has been ordered out.

Conservation officers have told the protesters to take down empty tents, which were deemed a fire hazard. As the fall weather grew cooler and some protesters headed home, the campsite dwindled from more than 30 tents to a mere handful by last weekend.

The province is forbidding protesters from erecting structures such as hay-bale stacks to break the wind.

"They tell us that they respect our right to peaceful assembly and they're just focused on our safety; however, they make it increasingly hard for us to survive here," Balodis said.

The government says it's simply keeping the park clean.

"We've been working with the group to ensure vacant tents are removed and the site is cleaned up. They've been cooperative so far," Matthew Williamson, a spokesman for Premier Greg Selinger, wrote in an email Tuesday.

Balodis and a few others are at the site every day. They've added foam insulation, cardboard and other material to the bottom of their tents. A couple of the tents have heaters in them. Balodis has tried to maximize the insulation value of his temporary home by putting his tent inside two others, essentially giving him three walls on each side.

Other protesters stop by during the daytime or sleep over occasionally in a sort of time-share arrangement.

The campers face the harsh, cold reality of Winnipeg winters where the thermometer can dip overnight to -40F. But so far, they appear determined to stay to keep pressure on government to address income disparity and other social issues.

For Balodis, the continued campout is also a sign to the general public that the Occupy movement is not dying.

"They easily make that assumption," he said.

"Random people still do walk by and they want to talk about the movement. You still meet new people, just not as often as in the summer."

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