The RCMP negotiated with drivers of transport trucks and other vehicles blocking access to a U.S. border crossing in southern Alberta to allow trapped motorists to leave on Monday, as the protest over COVID-19 public-health measures halted traffic and trade for a third day and further flamed division in the United Conservative Party caucus.
The stretches of parked vehicles on Highway 4 near Coutts, about a three-hour drive southeast of Calgary, took shape on the weekend. The concerns of the Alberta protesters mirrored those of the demonstrators in the convoy of big rigs that has taken over downtown Ottawa.
In Coutts, a village of about 250 people, some 20 children missed classes on Monday because the school bus didn’t run out of concern for safety. The mail never made it to town. And truckers ferrying goods across the U.S.-Canada border had to either wait for an end to the impasse or take another route.
The protesters want governments to lift all COVID-19 public-health measures. The most recent wave of demonstrations started in opposition to Ottawa and Washington imposing vaccine mandates on truckers crossing into their respective countries, but has morphed into protests against all restrictions, including masks and immunization requirements for the broader population. Scores of participants, including some gathered near Coutts and organizers in Ottawa, have pledged to stand firm until all coronavirus rules are shredded.
RCMP Corporal Curtis Peters said the Mounties were able to negotiate with the protesters at Coutts to allow vehicles trapped in the gridlock to leave Monday afternoon. In addition to the RCMP’s beefed-up presence, there are independent tow trucks at the ready on the highway.
“Enforcement has and continues to be an option, including arrests and towing of vehicles,” Cpl. Peters said. “I hope for a negotiated end. I hope that this resolves and returns to a lawful protest and facilitates the movement of traffic on the highway and the town of Coutts can go back to normal and kids can go back to school.”
Roughly 800 to 1,200 trucks pass through Coutts each day, the provincial government said. About 52 per cent of Alberta’s gross domestic product is delivered by truck. Premier Jason Kenney last week said he is “confident” his government will be able to scrub the vaccine-passport system by the end of March. On the weekend, he called for the blockade to disband.
Grant Hunter, the MLA for Taber-Warner, on Saturday said he took his family to the Coutts blockade. On Facebook, the United Conservative Party member posted a photo of himself holding a toddler and surrounded by others while standing between two semis on the highway.
“I brought the grandkids down to the Coutts border today to show them the importance of standing up for freedom and liberty #freedomconvoy,” he wrote on Facebook.
His fellow UCP MLAs denounced his support for blocking an international trade route.
“Our government position on this is pretty clear: Even though we respect the right of people to protest, blocking highways is illegal,” Health Minister Jason Copping told reporters Monday. “It has an impact on Albertans, on businesses, and quite frankly, isn’t the right way to protest.”
The minister said he does not agree with Mr. Hunter’s “choice,” and that the provincial government is “urging” those involved in the protest to stand down.
Doug Schweitzer, the Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, at a separate press conference said he was “disappointed” with Mr. Hunter’s actions and is looking forward to hearing his colleague’s explanation. “This is going to be an issue that our caucus needs to talk about,” he said.
Mr. Hunter did not return messages seeking comment.
Glen Motz, the Conservative member of Parliament for Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner, in a tweet on Saturday cheered the protesters who blocked traffic. On Monday, he hedged his enthusiasm.
“I don’t support a blockade,” he said in an interview. “I support the truckers’ ability – or any Canadian’s ability – to protest positions that they feel are out of line.”
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