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Gerhard (George) Janzen arrives at the courthouse in Lethbridge on April 16, 2024.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

The three men on trial in Alberta for their roles in the highway blockade in protest of government-ordered restrictions during the pandemic have been found guilty on a charge of mischief over $5,000.

The jury convicted Marco Van Huigenbos, Alex Van Herk and George Janzen around 8:30 p.m. in a Lethbridge courtroom. The six men and six women deliberated for a little more than four hours Tuesday evening. The trio were free to leave and will be sentenced at a later date. They face up to 10 years in jail.

Justice Keith Yamauchi, prior to the jury delivering its verdict, warned the gallery to maintain decorum and cautioned he would have anyone disrespecting his order escorted out. The men’s supporters stayed silent as the jury foreman delivered the three guilty verdicts.

Mr. Van Herk’s lawyer requested the jury be polled and, one by one, each member confirmed they agreed with the decision with respect to Mr. Van Herk.

The Crown accused the three men of being ringleaders at the two-week blockade on Highway 4 at Coutts, a village on the Canada-U.S. border, in 2022. The protest emerged in tandem with the convoy that paralyzed Ottawa as Canadians frustrated with government-imposed restrictions tied to COVID blocked streets around Parliament Hill.

The men’s lawyers argued they did not direct or control the protestors at Coutts.

Outside the courthouse, Mr. Van Herk and Mr. Van Huigenbos said they do not expect to appeal the decision. Mr. Janzen declined to comment.

“Let’s hope they put us in the same spot,” Mr. Van Huigenbos said to Mr. Janzen as they hugged.

Mr. Van Huigenbos said while he is worried about going to jail, he is proud of the group’s actions.

“Government tyranny, government abuse, and government overreach has to be countered to maintain a balance in society,” he told reporters.

He said he would do it again if similar circumstances emerged.

“It was the right thing to do,” he said. “We made mistakes and if there is such a thing as learning from your mistakes, I’d probably do it better.”

Mr. Van Herk also said he is prepared to go to jail and is proud of what he did at Coutts.

“I just hope there is accountability coming forward from this for the politicians for why we had to go there,” he said. “What was happening in our country and our province at that time, it forced good people to do uncivil things to be heard.

“We tried every other avenue,” he said. “Accountability needs to be there.”

Steven Johnston, the Crown prosecutor, directed requests for comment to the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service.

About 80 people had filled the Lethbridge courtroom earlier in the day in support of the three convicted men as their defence lawyers and the Crown wrapped up the trial. The accused did not testify and their lawyers did not present any evidence in the Court of King’s Bench trial, which started April 3.

In their closing arguments, the men’s lawyers argued the trio did not organize, lead or instruct the hundreds of people who gathered on Highway 4 near Coutts.

Ryan Durran, the lawyer representing Mr. Van Huigenbos, told the jury his client was just a conduit for information between the RCMP and the protesters.

“He stumbled into a position as a spokesperson. Circumstances conspired so that he became the point of contact with the RCMP,” Mr. Durran said in his closing remarks. “That doesn’t make him a leader. You might as well blame the postman because he brings you your bills.”

Mr. Van Huigenbos, who at the time was a councillor for the town of Fort Macleod, became an “errand boy for the RCMP and disgruntled protesters” because he was a good communicator.

“The RCMP picked him out as a moderate they could deal with,” Mr. Durran said. “The RCMP made Marco the public face of things. Maybe he was happy to have that role. Maybe he enjoyed it quite a bit. But his role was created by the interactions with the RCMP.”

Michael Johnston told the jury his client, Mr. Van Herk, only got in trouble because of a misplaced sense of nobility stemming from his desire to protect people with whom he shared political ideology. In a discussion with police, Mr. Van Herk asked if he, his brother, Mr. Van Huigenbos and Mr. Janzen could take responsibility for the protest on behalf of the entire group, Mr. Johnston said.

“One swallow does not make a summer, nor should one misplaced comment make Mr. Van Herk a leader or even be viewed as a key player,” Mr. Johnston said. He also noted Mr. Van Herk lobbied the protesters to leave Coutts long before the demonstration wrapped on Feb. 14, 2022.

Mr. Van Herk’s name rarely showed up in the RCMP’s notes and he did not text officers, Mr. Johnston said. Mr. Van Herk did, the lawyer conceded, hand RCMP a document demanding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau resign. It was a plagiarized version of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, he said.

“It is somewhat silly,” Mr. Johnston said. “But it is just an expression of somebody’s political discontent.”

Alan Honner said his client, Mr. Janzen, aided the police throughout the two-week demonstration. Mr. Honner noted RCMP turned to him to convince protesters to make way for a trucker who got stuck in the initial blockade and needed to attend to a family emergency; to help officers navigate the blockade; and, at one point, to keep protesters calm.

“He makes no demand. He gets nothing for it. He is just being helpful,” Mr. Honner told the jury.

Steven Johnston, the Crown prosecutor, told the jury they do not have to believe the three men led the protest, participated equally or were at Coutts the entire time.

“One act, one statement of encouragement, can be enough to convict,” he said.

The Crown argued the three men were more than messengers, pointing to their use of “we, our and us” in the videos from Coutts as evidence they were not outsiders brought in to negotiate.

The Crown also argued occasionally opening a lane of traffic should not be construed as helpful or charitable. He noted the only time the protesters opened Highway 4 was when they thought they could get something in exchange.

“It was not their highway to close,” he told the jury. “Making the crime you’re doing less impactful, for a short time, does not mean that you’re not committing the crime.”

The trial is separate from the four men charged with conspiracy to commit murder in relation to the protest at Coutts. Two of those men in February pleaded guilty to lesser offences, while a trial for the remaining two is scheduled for May.

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