End of the occupation of the “Freedom Convoy” on the border between Montana and Alberta

COUTTS, Alta. — The intermittent blockade of the Canada-U.S. border north of Shelby appears to have ended 18 days after truckers protesting vaccination mandates blocked the highway with their vehicles. The end of the occupation on the border between Coutts, Alberta and Sweet Grass, Montana came after the arrest of more than a dozen people this week for allegedly planning violence against law enforcement, announced the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The protests – which started over vaccination warrants, but in recent days have become more about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pandemic policies in general – have drawn more attention this week from Canadian law enforcement. north of the border and supporting Montanans south of it, some of whom organized their own “freedom convoys”.

In March 2020, the Canada-US border was closed to non-essential travel in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. People involved in essential activities, such as truck drivers, were generally able to cross the border freely to do their jobs. Beginning Jan. 15, however, Canada and the United States began requiring truckers crossing the international border to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or enter mandatory quarantine after crossing. In late January, a convoy of truckers gathered in British Columbia and headed east for Ottawa, where they began occupying the area around Parliament Hill, disrupting life in the capital. Around the same time the occupation of Ottawa began, a group of truckers and farmers converged on Highway 4 north of Coutts. For the past two weeks, the group has generally halted travel and trade between Montana and Alberta, although traffic has continued to flow on the international line at times.

Reaction to the protests among Canadian politicians has been mixed. Some Tory politicians have said they understand protesters’ concerns, but that blocking border crossings and occupying the area around Parliament Hill goes too far. Trudeau, leader of the country’s Liberal Party, said the protesters did not represent the majority of Canadians. Over 80% of Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19.

In Montana, the protests found more support. Over the weekend, “Freedom Convoys” were held in Columbia Falls and Eureka. The Eureka group drove north to the port of entry in the town of Roosville, where they encountered a group of Canadians who had come from Elko, British Columbia. State Sen. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, who has long dealt with border issues related to the pandemic, spoke at the event and said there were a few hundred supporters on each side of the border. Cuffe said the highway was not closed during Saturday’s event, which he called “peaceful and positive.”

Cuffe said he believed Canada’s vaccination mandates and the use of vaccination passports were unnecessary — especially, he said, as it appeared the grip of the pandemic on normal life was diminishing.

“The government needs to listen to people on this one,” he said.

Cuffe said while he disagreed with the methods of some protesters, particularly the blocking of border crossings, he understood their motivations.

“I hate to see trade disrupted, but these truckers want to be heard and that’s how they do it,” he said.

In recent days, a number of Canadian provinces have ended their vaccination passport requirements for entry into public spaces. Among them is Alberta, which ended the requirement last week. British Columbia has said it will maintain its vaccination passport requirement until at least mid-March.

This week, Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, a 1988 law that gives the government broad powers to quell unrest during a “national emergency.” Although the law has never been used before, an earlier law, the War Measures Act, was used during both World Wars and by Trudeau’s father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, during the Depression. October 1970, when Quebec separatists kidnapped a Deputy Prime Minister and a Briton. Diplomat. The Emergencies Act allows law enforcement to prohibit travel in specific areas, including border crossings and Parliament Hill.

Before the law was invoked, law enforcement was able to clear and reopen the border between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan, a key gateway for trade between the United States and Canada. . Then, early Monday, RCMP arrested 13 people near Coutts after determining that a small group of protesters “were willing to use force against police if attempts were made to disrupt the blockade.” RCMP later found three trailers full of weapons near the protest site, including guns, ammunition and several sets of armour.

After the arrests, the organizers of the protests in Coutts decided to disband.

“Our message has been a message of peace and to keep that message strong, we felt it best to move on,” organizer Marco Van Huigenbos told Global News Edmonton.

According to the RCMP, traffic began moving freely across the border around noon on Tuesday.

Michael A. Bynum