Four Alberta men are in custody accused of plotting to murder RCMP officers and nine other people are facing weapons and mischief offences as part of what RCMP say was a significant and organized threat by a heavily armed group at the Coutts border protest – and the first public steps in an continuing RCMP investigation into illegal activity at the blockade.
“I can tell you that this threat was very serious,” said Southern Alberta RCMP Chief Superintendent Trevor Daroux, speaking at an RCMP press conference Tuesday evening.
The arrests began after RCMP tactical officers raided two camper trailers and a mobile home on 1st Avenue North in Coutts shortly after midnight on Monday.
Chris Carbert, 44; Christopher Lysak, 48; Anthony Olienick, 39; and Jerry Morin, 40, are charged with possession of weapons for a dangerous purpose and mischief over $5,000, in addition to the conspiracy to commit murder charges. Mr. Lysak faces an additional charge of uttering threats.
Six more men – Luke Berk, 62; Johnson Law, 39; Evan Colenutt, 23; Justin Martin, 22; Eastin Stewart Oler, 22; and Janx Zaremba, 18 – and three women – Joanne Person, 62; Jaclyne Martin, 39; and Ursula Allred, 22 – are also charged with mischief and unlawful weapons offences in relation to the blockade.
“Monday’s weapons seizure and subsequent arrests speak to the serious criminal activities taking place during this protest and illegal blockade. The dangerous criminal activity occurring away from the TV cameras and social-media posts was real and organized,” said Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki. “It could have been deadly for citizens, protesters and officers.”
Chief Supt. Daroux said RCMP were in touch with protest organizers before the blockade began, seeking to balance the rights of citizens to protest with an open border and public safety. He said police were initially assured the protest would remain peaceful and lawful, but that once protesters established themselves at the border, “it very rapidly became an unlawful protest with some very real safety concerns.”
While RCMP have faced questions and criticism over videos that appeared to show police being friendly with protesters – even hugging them – he said the operation was focused on safety, but that officers were gathering evidence at all times, and that an investigation into illegal activity during the blockade is continuing, with more charges expected.
“The lack of what you see, visible enforcement, doesn’t preclude enforcement from coming and investigation continuing after that,” he said. “These are very dynamic situations. A lot of those facts will come out through the courts, but I can assure you that where the evidence is available, charges will be laid and individuals will be brought to court.”
A photo released by RCMP after the arrests showed a large cache of firearms and ammunition seized from the property, including 13 long guns, many with scopes, as well as loads of ammunition, high-capacity magazines, handguns, body armour, a large machete, and walkie-talkies.
The RCMP confirmed the location of the raid in Coutts. No one answered the door at the property Tuesday morning.
On the night of the raid, an account with the same name as Ms. Person wrote on Facebook that RCMP officers were on her property.
“The full tactical is at my home and they are [telling] us to leave the home and that they are entering. My god. Please help us,” she wrote Monday morning at 12:21 a.m. She later wrote that she needed a lawyer. “There is swat and tactical [surrounding] my yard,” she wrote three minutes later.
One of the campers in the yard bore the slogan “Lets Go Brandon!,” a political slam at U.S. President Joe Biden. Outside, there was a case of Pilsner beer and a barbecue, along with coolers, gas cans and propane tanks.
Dealing with the charges at Lethbridge Provincial Court on Tuesday, court heard the individuals were in quarantine, and therefore could not appear by video-link as their matters were dealt with. Given the circumstances, their appearances were waived by both the defence and Crown.
The four men facing the conspiracy to commit murder charges were remanded in custody for bail hearings, and are currently slated to be back in court on Friday. Mr. Colenutt was also remanded in custody until Friday, pending a bail hearing.
The other eight accused, who live in Red Deer, Calgary, Coutts and Turner Valley, were all released with the consent of the Crown under a number of conditions, including having no contact with their co-accused, not being in or near public protests, and having no weapons or firearms. Their charges were all adjourned until March 15.
During the proceedings, court heard that three of the accused – Mr. Martin, Ms. Allred and Mr. Oler – are roommates – and that they work with Mr. Zaremba at a Calgary LED lighting company. The connection between the other accused, and whether they knew each other before the blockade or met at the scene, is not clear.
RCMP say possible ties to larger extremist groups remain under investigation, and that more charges are possible, related both to the group and to other illegal activity at the border blockade.
Social-media posts by several of the individuals reflect anti-vaccination, anti-mask, conspiracy and anti-government sentiment. Body armour seized by RCMP in the raid includes patches identified with conspiracy and far-right movements.
On social media, Mr. Carbert and Mr. Lysak have both interacted with posts by a man described by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network as the leader of a radical far-right movement that wants to bring about the dissolution of Canada, and the formation of a new country.
Mr. Carbert, one of the accused charged with conspiracy to commit murder against the RCMP, posted often about conspiracy theories, and expressed a willingness to die for those beliefs.
”I will die fighting for what I believe is right and I mean this,” Mr. Carbert wrote in October.
- With files from Carrie Tait
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