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‘Back to being civil’: Coutts residents continue to heal one year after border blockade

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. -

The quiet streets of Coutts are a stark contrast to one year ago, when more than 100 vehicles blocked the highway in opposition to COVID-19 measures

For a few weeks late last January and early February, the world turned its eyes to Coutts, as the story drew widespread media coverage, even as it divided the community in two.

“As a result of the blockade, I think we did everything that we needed to do,” said Keith Dangerfield, owner of Hills and Home Café and Bed and Breakfast in Coutts.  “We got the attention of the world and we put Coutts on the map.”

What started as a convoy of trucks to the Sweet Grass-Coutts border quickly turned into a prolonged blockade of an international port of entry.

Demonstrators against COVID-19 restrictions shut down cross-border travel for four days, stranding snowbirds, truckers and cattle liners in the U.S.A and Canada.

The group remained set up for 18 days in the village of 250 people causing a spilt in the tight-knit community.                                                                                       

“The problem with any protest is there are people who come down on one side or the other and people rarely stay in the middle,” Dangerfield said. “I think, what has happened over the past year is a lot of that dividing line has disappeared and we're back to being people.”

“I own a restaurant and we rely on customers, so we’ve all come back to being civil with each other,” he added.

CHARGED

On Feb. 14, 2022, RCMP charged 13 people with mischief and four with conspiracy to kill RCMP officers after seizing guns, body armour and high capacity magazines.

On the same day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Measures Act to stop the protest at Coutts, Parliament Hill and Windsor, Ont.

As a result, the protesters in Coutts packed up and headed home, changing the mood across Alberta.

“I was an involved young man running a business, starting a family and here we are, not even a year later and my life has changed,” said Marco Van Huigenbos, a town councillor in Fort Macleod and participant in the Coutts blockade. “Not all for the worse, but it's been an interesting year to say the least.”

Demonstrators against COVID-19 restrictions shut down cross-border travel for four days stranding snowbirds, truckers and cattle liners in the U.S.A and Canada.

Van Huigenbos is charged with mischief over $5,000 related to the protests and currently awaiting trial.

RCMP allege he was a 'key participant' in the blockade, along with Alex Van Herk and Gerhard Janzen.

Despite the disruption caused to the economy, Van Huigenbos maintains the blockade needed to happen.

“We were in a dysfunctional society for quite some time being run,” Van Huigenbos told CTV. “Something had to be done and whether you agree with what happened at Coutts or not, Coutts shook things up. It woke a lot of people up.”

As protesters plan to gather in Coutts and elsewhere in southern Alberta on Saturday, residents in the village are trying to move on.

“There will still be a few who won’t move on,” Dangerfield said. “There is still some healing and I don’t think we'll ever get rid of all the things that have put us on one side or the other.”

To mark the one-year anniversary, a convoy is set to take place on Saturday. Participants will leave Lethbridge at 9:30 a.m., drive to Coutts, loop around and drive back to Lethbridge where a barbeque and speeches are being planned in the afternoon.

The streets of Coutts were quiet Friday, a year after the border blockade

The Lethbridge Police Service and RCMP are advising of possible traffic disruptions along 43 Street and Highway 4.

“Motorists can expect possible delays heading out of the city along Hwy. 4 starting at 8 a.m. Upon returning to Lethbridge, the convoy is expected to travel northbound on Howe Road/Range Road 211, turn westbound on the Jail Road, connect with northbound 43 Street and proceed westbound on 5 Avenue North ending the route along the 3200 block,” LPS said in a release. “Anyone with travel plans in those areas is advised to expect delays or consider taking alternate routes.”

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