The protest at the Coutts, Alberta, border crossing against pandemic restrictions has turned violent, according to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, after multiple trucks and tractors broke through police lines Tuesday afternoon.
Kenney said he received reports from the scene “of people aligned with the protesters assaulting RCMP officers, including in one instance trying to ram members of the RCMP, later leading to a collision with a civilian vehicle.”
Kenney roundly chastised protesters while calling for calm at Alberta’s only 24-hour border crossing that acts as the province’s main throughfare for live cattle and beef products heading to the United States.
“Assaulting law-enforcement officers who are simply doing their job to maintain public safety and the rule of law is completely unacceptable and without hesitation I condemn those actions,” said Kenney.
The blockade began Jan. 29 as a slow roll protest down the highway leading to the border community of Coutts, but shifted to a lockdown of the international crossing by the end of the day.
Since at least Sunday, the protest has attracted supporters from across the province who have been attempting to either join the blockade or at least provide supplies to those who have set up shop outside Coutts, a village of 250 people.
RCMP had closed the roads to the community on Monday at the nearby community of Milk River leading to Coutts.
That police roadblock was breached by trucks and tractors on Tuesday with the vehicles racing down both the northbound and southbound lanes of the highway leading to Coutts.
A protester in a tractor near Milk River, Alta. shares the moment of farmers breaking through the RCMP blockades of Highway 4 to the Coutts-Sweetgrass (MT) border crossing south of Lethbridge, Feb. 1. | Twitter screen capture
The incident occurred just as RCMP began to move in on the Coutts protesters in the early afternoon and led to a suspension of the Mounties’ enforcement efforts.
Kenney said the move from negotiation to enforcement occurred after talks between protesters and the RCMP broke down.
“Unfortunately, the approximately 100 remaining individuals participating in that process have apparently refused to negotiate in good faith with the RCMP about an acceptable way forward,” said Kenney.
Asked if he would meet with the Coutts protesters, Kenney said he wouldn’t due to the police operation.
“In this country, part of the rule of law means that we trust the judgement of our law enforcement agencies on operational matters and for a politician to get cross-threaded into that, I don’t think would be helpful,” he said.
However, he did note the economic damage the blockade is doing to the provincial agricultural sector.
“Every day that port is closed represents a cost, particularly to agriculture producers, to livestock producers, farmers and food producers here in Alberta,” said the premier.
But he added it’s too early to say if there will be any additional supports provided to the provincial agricultural sector impacted by the blockade.
Coutts mayor Jim Willet said he didn’t see livestock liners caught in the blockade but did see plenty of refrigeration trailers.
He was critical of the decision by truckers to block the border.
“I see stock trailers go by here all the time. I see loads of hay going north, and they can’t have thought this through to understand the impact on the little guy, on their neighbours, on the ranchers and farmers,” said Willet.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
The Canadian Meat Council said in a statement Jan. 31 that more than 150 loads of beef were stuck at the border waiting to get into the United States.
“Our members are going to have to slow down production if this keeps up,” the organization said.
The blockade by those advocating for a lifting of pandemic restrictions brings into sharp focus the lines between those for and against health mandates in the country.
The issue is uniting both the governing Alberta United Conservative Party and NDP official opposition in denouncing the move that has shut down traffic crossing the province’s only 24-hour border crossing. Glen Motz, the Conservative MP for the region, has also criticized the blockade.
This comes as the call for people to stand up against pandemic restrictions begins to look like a standoff with law enforcement.
Willet said he would have no problem with the protest if it didn’t include the blockade, but residents of his community now feel stuck in the village of 250 people.
Willet said he was told by the organizers of the blockade that the mostly older residents of the community could come and go from their community and their access wouldn’t be impeded.
“The story I’ve been telling everybody is take your grandparents, and they have been living in a quiet little town where they know everybody and now, you’re asking them to go get groceries and to do that, they have to drive up to this imposing wall of machinery and ask permission to go through it and they get led through. They have to talk to strangers and see a crowd of people that they don’t know — some of them fairly imposing,” Willet said.
However, the issues at play are larger and boil down to allowing the country to continue to be a free one, said Tara Walter, owner of B&D Walter Trucking.
“It’s representation of commerce and freedom and small business,” said Walter in support of the action.
“Small businesses are going bankrupt. We support fully our employees going on the national convoy. But not just that, the freedoms and liberties we used to have and regaining our life back from the last two years with all these mandates and changes.”
She said those affected by the blockade, specifically in the agricultural sector, shouldn’t see the protest as a personal attack against them.
What has had more of an impact on international trade is the vaccination mandate requirements on both sides of the border, Walter added.
“People just want to make a difference,” she said about the protest at the border, adding she has been getting messages of support for her company’s stance on the issue.
“People just want to be heard. People don ‘t know what to do with themselves with how everything is. There is no end to this, and they are tired of not living and they just want to live in peace and have freedom again.”
However, Motz said it’s time to end the blockade.
He had initially expressed support on social media for truckers taking part in the protest, but says the blockade can’t be justified nor does it have any organizational connection with the larger Ottawa convoy.
“I have not and do not support the blocking of the border,” said Motz, adding that in his discussions with organizers of the Ottawa rally, they have told him the Coutts protest organizers have “nothing to do with them. They don’t support any of this blockade of the border.”
The UCP MLA for the constituency, Grant Hunter, has also come under fire for his initial support of protesters at the border.
When asked about the MLA’s social media posts on the protests, economy minister Doug Schweitzer responded: “This is going to be an issue our caucus needs to talk about. I’m disappointed Grant Hunter made the decision to go there and participate in that illegal blockade.”
The former provincial justice minister said blockades such as those at Coutts “is exactly why we brought in place the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act here in Alberta — to make sure law enforcement have the exact tools available to them to deal with law enforcement.”
That legislation gives police and prosecutors additional power to levy fines against individuals and companies taking part in offences that impede commerce.
For its part, the Alberta opposition NDP is also calling for an end of the blockade in addition to the removal of Hunter from the UCP caucus.
“There is unity in some extent already. Both ourselves and Premier Kenney have referred to this as an illegal blockade,” said NDP MLA David Shepherd.
“Both of us have noted this needs to stop.”
However, despite those calls, or in spite of them, protesters continued to block the international border crossing as of Tuesday evening.
Article original paru sous le titre : Violence at Alta. border; tractors break police barricades
Par : Alex McCuaig (01/02/2022)
Source : producer.com (The Western Producer)
Photo : Jeff McIntosh | La Presse Canadienne (tirée de l'article : Breakthrough in Alberta border blockade, lanes open in both directions - CTV News Calgary)