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RCMP begins removing protesters, vehicles at Coutts, Alta. border crossing; secondary blockades set up

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RCMP began removing a massive blockade of vehicles — many of them semi trucks and trailers — near the Canada-U.S. border crossing at Coutts, Alta. on Tuesday, however some protesters refused to leave and secondary blockades were set up further to the north.

The border crossing at Coutts has been effectively shut down since Saturday, when the mass of people and vehicles arrived in support of a nationwide protest against pandemic health measures.

"What may have begun as a peaceful assembly quickly turned into an unlawful blockade. While the Alberta RCMP has been in a position to conduct enforcement, we have been engaged with protesters at the Coutts border crossing in an effort to find a peaceful and safe resolution for all involved.  We thought we had a path to resolution, the protesters eventually chose not to comply," RCMP said in a release.

"As of (Tuesday) morning, further action is being taken by the Alberta RCMP as this blockade continues to impede the ability for emergency agencies to provide full services to area residents.  It has also negatively impacted the flow of goods and services, and impedes the public’s freedom of movement."

Because highways are considered essential infrastructure, "it is unlawful to wilfully obstruct, interrupt or interfere with the construction, maintenance, use or operation of any essential infrastructure in a manner that renders the essential infrastructure dangerous, useless, inoperative or ineffective as per the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act of Alberta," police added.

"Anyone who actively blocks a highway—or aids, counsels or directs a highway to be blocked—may be subject to arrest and charge under this act.

"Person’s participating in this blockade can also expect enforcement of any contraventions of the Criminal Code of Canada, the Traffic Safety Act and Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulations at this location and area roadways."

Some vehicles could be seen leaving as RCMP officers on foot began moving into the area.

But as vehicles left from the initial blockade, passenger vehicles and what appeared to be farm vehicles started to arrive and create a secondary blockade. Reporters and cameras observing the situation were moved further back from the area.

'BREACHED THE ROADBLOCK'

RCMP Cpl. Curtis Peters confirmed late Tuesday that three vehicles had left, but that a second group had broached the barricades erected by the RCMP by driving south on northbound Highway. 4, creating hazardous conditions.

"Those vehicles breached the roadblock," Peters said. "And they did that by driving at quite high speeds through the ditches and fields and things like that to get around the marked police units that were there.

"They then jump on to the northbound lanes of Highway 4, but they were traveling southbound in those northbound lanes in what I would describe as a dangerous manner, especially considering the three vehicles that we had depart from the protest."

Peters said the dangerous driving by the second group of protesters prompted the RCMP to reconsider their timeline for removing the protesters.

He added that there was one vehicle collision, and an assault took place between two protesters, which he described as minor.

No arrests were made.

'UN-CANADIAN APPROACH'

He added that a group of protesters did go to the home of the mayor of Coutts, Jim Willetts, although they didn't behave in a threatening manner.

"The protesters have gone to their residence and began to take photographs and wave to them through the windows and things like that," Peters said.

"Thus far up until today, we have had no violence and no threats through the duration of this blockade. Yes, it's illegal, but it has not been violent. And it has not been threatening."

While the protesters' actions outside the home of the mayor weren't threatening, Peters said their actions were uncalled for and inappropriate.

"The fight is not with the mayor and his wife," Peters said. "They did not implement any (vaccine) mandates, and they should not be subjected to that kind of harassment in their own home.

"That is a very UnCanadian approach to this. And I would call for those types of behaviors to cease," he added.

Peters said the goal of the RCMP heading into the fifth day of the standoff Wednesday remained the same.

"Our intention remains to restore movement of goods and vehicles on the road, but not at the risk of public safety," he said. "That's why we had to reposition and reconsider for the time being earlier today."

ANOTHER ROADBLOCK

The Blood Tribe later reported on social media traffic was also being re-routed from Highway 2, connecting Standoff to Fort McLeod, about 100 kilometres north of Coutts. That road was later reopened.

A third blockade was also set up near Nobleford, Alta., about 50 kilometres further north.

Premier Jason Kenney said Tuesday about 100 people are refusing to leave the Coutts protest and that "they have refused to negotiate in good faith with police."

Kenney said he's heard reports of some people allied with protesters assaulting police officers.

"This kind of conduct is totally unacceptable," he said, adding Alberta will ask that staffing levels at nearby border crossings be increased to allow traffic to flow.

The RCMP later confirmed there had been no officers assaulted.

CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE ACT

The Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, which was created in 2020 to allow law enforcement to punish protestors who impair critical economic infrastructure. Punishments include a fine of up to $25,000, plus up to six months in jail for individuals and a maximum fine of $200,000 for corporations.

"The Critical Infrastructure Defence Act was designed to deal with protecting infrastructure in the province of Alberta," said Doug Schweitzer, who was Alberta's justice minister when the piece of legislation was drafted and introduced. 

"We've seen rail blockades, we've seen highways be blocked and that's exactly what the intention of the bill was -- to provide law enforcement with greater tools to deal with illegal blockades in Alberta," said Schweitzer, who is now the provincial minister of jobs, economy and innovation.

With files from Kevin Green
 

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