The RCMP has arrested a dozen people tied to the blockade near the U.S.-Canada border in southern Alberta after seizing a cache of guns and ammunition.
The RCMP says it is considering conspiracy to commit murder charges, alleging a small group was prepared to use weapons against police if authorities tried to end the blockade at Coutts. The seizure included 13 long guns, handguns, multiple sets of body armour, a machete, a “large quantity” of ammunition, and high-capacity magazines.
The RCMP also disabled three excavators in an effort to limit heavy equipment available to the protesters, and seized a tractor and a semitruck after the operators took a run at an officer at a checkpoint, RCMP Superintendent Roberta McKale told reporters Monday. Dozens of pieces of farm equipment, semis, and passenger vehicles remain at the protest sites on Highway 4, near Coutts and Milk River.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invokes Emergencies Act to try to bring an end to the blockades
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Premier Jason Kenney on Monday said Alberta has provided police with the heavy equipment necessary to dismantle the highway blockade.
The protest adjacent to Coutts started Jan. 29. The RCMP said that, shortly after, officers became aware of a small, organized group within the larger cluster that had access to firearms. Supt. McKale said police seized the weapons from three trailers in Coutts shortly after midnight on Feb. 14.
“There’s a heavy stash of weapons, and these weapons were brought by people who had the intent on causing harm,” she told reporters. Eleven people were arrested in conjunction with the raid, and another was arrested on the highway Monday. After the original seizure, RCMP found two more guns in the vehicle they searched Monday morning.
“We certainly have concerns about how this has developed,” Supt. McKale said of the escalating violence around the protests in southern Alberta. “Our investigation into what could be a number of different charges, a number of different acts, has created a situation where we are investigating conspiracy to commit murder.”
Chad Williamson, who has represented the protesters at the Coutts border during earlier negotiations with the RCMP, declined to comment on the arrests or seizure. He said in a text message that lawyers are in the process of being retained by individual clients at the blockade as they assess the charges
Supt. McKale said on the evening of Feb. 13, a tractor with an implement attached to the front “came at one of our members” who was in a vehicle at a police checkpoint. The officer was able to get out of the way, and then a semi-trailer got involved in a co-ordinated effort to “push or ram” a police vehicle, she said. The occupants of the tractor and semi then ran into an area where protesters had gathered, she said. RCMP identified the man driving the tractor and is working to locate him. Another vehicle broke through a checkpoint Monday afternoon, nearly hitting an officer on the road, Supt. McKale said.
She also confirmed RCMP disabled three pieces of heavy equipment on the weekend. RCMP, she said, believed the excavators were headed to Coutts and did not leave upon police request.
“We can’t have more heavy equipment coming here for a fortification,” Supt. McKale said. “And they needed to go. And they didn’t.”
These events happened prior to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoking the Emergencies Act, which Mr. Kenney warned could worsen the situation in Alberta.
“I conveyed to the Prime Minister this morning my view that this is a very sensitive time and that any measures that could further inflame tensions could be counterproductive,” he said on Monday.
The Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters Association estimates the Coutts crossing usually sees $44-million a day in two-way trade. It is a key crossing for the cattle industry.
Daniel Sullivan, a spokesman for Cargill Inc., said the agri-food giant continues to receive cattle at its slaughterhouse in High River at normal capacity. However, its harvest numbers are “down slightly” at High River because “trucks out of position and taking longer to turn and come back due to needing alternative routes.”
Harvest numbers at other locations, he said, are holding steady. “We are able to run near capacity for the most part, however each day without a resolution to the situation is creating further strain on what can be managed without greater impact to the supply chain,” Mr. Sullivan said in a statement.
There are two protest sites related to the blockade at Coutts. The first is adjacent to the village of about 250 people, near the border. Protesters there have blocked the highway, and are using the Smugglers Saloon, a roadside tavern, as their home base. A second protest emerged about 14 kilometres north, where police had established a checkpoint to limit access to the Coutts protest. However, earlier this month, demonstrators gathered there, parking their idling equipment just metres from the police barricade. That spot has ballooned on the weekends as supports turn up and mill about in the ditch separating the north and southbound lanes.
The protesters in southern Alberta had intermittently allowed transport trucks to pass through. However, the Canadian Border Services Agency has temporarily closed the Coutts crossing.
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