Traffic moving at Alberta border crossing as blockade dismantled, RCMP says

The international border crossing at Coutts, Alta., that had been blocked by protesters opposed to Canada’s vaccine mandates opened on Tuesday morning as demonstrators left voluntarily, the RCMP said.

RCMP spokesperson Gina Slaney said the protest had cleared out significantly and traffic was able to cross the border in both directions. 

The Canada Border Services Agency also confirmed to CBC News around 11 a.m. that the port of entry had reopened.

Premier Jason Kenney said Monday that the Mounties informed him they would begin to clear the blockade after an early morning raid saw police seize weapons, ammunition and body armour, and make arrests.

Coutts Mayor Jim Willett told CBC News on Tuesday that the discovery of the weaponry was “disturbing” and said it was the catalyst that ended the protest.

“[The protesters have] been here for longer than I believe that they thought they would be. It didn’t really start out with much of a plan for a blockade,” Willett said.

“Once that undesirable element moved into town and [protesters] heard about that, well, it was enough I think to provide an impetus to call an end to this.”

‘Some huge wins,’ protest organizer says

The protest by people opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates had impeded or outright blocked access to the normally busy border crossing for two weeks.

Marco Van Huigenbos, one of the organizers of the protest, told CBC News on Tuesday that protesters would have “loved to stay” until more of its goals were met, but felt it was in their best interests to leave peacefully.

“We’re not walking away with everything we came for, but there was definitely some huge wins,” Van Huigenbos said about the lifting of most COVID-19 public health restrictions in Alberta.

Kenney announced the end of measures that included Alberta’s vaccine passport program on Feb. 8, but has denied it was due to pressure from the protest.

“Our careful plan to get life back to normal is not based on anybody protesting, it’s just based on the fact that restrictions are not needed now to protect the healthcare system,” Kenney said during a news conference Monday.

Truckers from the blockade at the U.S. border left voluntarily on Tuesday and passed through Milk River, Alta. RCMP had designated a legal protest site there and were monitoring traffic. (CBC)

13 people facing charges

Police have now arrested a total of 13 people — 11 in an initial pre-dawn raid on Monday on three trailers, plus two more later that day.

Most of the accused face charges of mischief to property over $5,000 and possession of a weapon. Three also face an additional charge of conspiracy to murder with one man also charged with uttering threats.

Van Huigenbos said the protest was intended to be peaceful, and the accused weren’t well-known to most of its participants.

“I mingled with them, right? They introduced themselves,” Van Huigenbos said.

“They sat [at] our tables, ate our food. We did have our eye on them a bit. There was … activity that was concerning. But we were not aware to this element.”

Van Huigenbos said other protesters were shocked when reports and photos of weaponry emerged.

“There would have never been any violence on our part,” he said.

One man was arrested on the highway as he was en route to the protest site. Police say they seized two weapons from his vehicle. He remains in custody. 

In a second incident, around 12:45 p.m., a semi truck approached an RCMP check stop north of Milk River. RCMP say the driver sped up and drove toward police but swerved at the last moment and hit some traffic cones that were on the roadway.

Trudeau invokes Emergencies Act

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday he is invoking the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canada’s history to give the federal government temporary powers to handle ongoing blockades and protests against pandemic restrictions.

The unprecedented deployment of the act gives police more tools to restore order in places where public assemblies constitute illegal and dangerous activities, such as blockades and occupations, he said. 

Trudeau said the act also will enable the RCMP to enforce municipal bylaws and provincial offences where required.

Kenney said Monday he doesn’t believe invoking the act is necessary in Alberta.

“We have the legal powers that we need. We have the operational resources that we need to enforce, and I think at this point for the federal government to reach in over top of us without offering anything in particular would frankly be unhelpful,” said Kenney.


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