By Al Beeber
Westwind Weekly News
Coutts mayor Jim Willett supports the right to protest but the truck convoy blockade at Coutts goes too far for him.
“I’m not impressed with the total blockage,” said Willett.
Later in the day Monday RCMP said the blockade, which started Saturday, was no longer lawful and resources are in place to make arrests and tow away vehicles if they are unable to resolve the conflict.
“I was fine with the protest, that’s one of the freedoms that you have in a free society is the freedom to demonstrate and as long your demonstration doesn’t start damaging peoples’ abilities to work, for society to continue to function, well you can protest all you want.
“But they quickly lost my trust when they did that,” said Willett.
Road travel across the Canada-U.S. border at Coutts has been shut down since Saturday when a protest turned into a full-out blockade.
He said the RCMP managed to have an ambulance go through the blockade to see if emergency services could be provided when needed.
Willett says the blockade is impacting the village volunteer fire department’s ability to deal with emergencies if one arises east of the community.
Willett said the blockade is causing problems for the community.
“I’ve got an older population and we’re not used to seeing a lot of people down this way and then the main entrance to town is where they decided to place their blockade. So if you do want to leave town, you have to go there and be escorted through the blockade and on out to the highway which is actually closed at Milk River,” Willett said.
“It’s intimidating to see all of these big rigs parked on the highway and have to drive by them to get away. We have a back road that you can go through which is passable right now,” he said before a snowstorm hit the area.
He said there’s been no communication between the village and blockade organizers since a call was made to the Coutts office last week informing them of the protest.
“We’ve had no contact with the protest organizers whatsoever. They have not contacted the village, they made one phone call in the middle of last week and talked to the office assistant and she was in the middle of something else and they just said ‘we’re going be down there, we’re not going to block any entrances to the village.’
“That’s the only contact we ever had. Our understanding, and from what the first organizer I saw in line said, they were going to make it a slow roll” running trucks in one lane of the highway to the border. When they got turned away at U.S. customs, protesters planned to make U-turns, cross into Canada and go to Milk River before turning around and going back to the Uw.S. customs.
“That was the original plan; there was no blockades in the original plan,” said Willett.
“The organizers did not have that in their agenda that I’m aware of. However, Saturday afternoon, the wheels fell off the bus” and blocked the first entrance into the village after the scale house, the mayor said.
“For awhile there, all access to the village was cut off. We get a little nervous when you do that, not only for the people in the business but for the fact we provide fire coverage to everybody that’s east of here,” Willett said.
An oversized load road was being used for a short time when the blockade started but Willett believes now that will be blocked as well.
“These folks have a right to lawful protest,” said Cpl. Curtis Peters. “I’ve encouraged them to return to that and, if that takes place, there will be no need for those enforcement actions.”
Peters said about half the number of vehicles that were at the barricade on Sunday, many which were not part of the protest, had left.
Late Monday, RCMP issued a statement saying negotiations for a peaceful resolution had not been successful.
“While we thought we had a path to resolve this, the protesters chose not to comply,” it said. “We will continue to actively resolve the situation.”
The convoy from Lethbridge left the Flying J Diesel Cardlock early Saturday morning.
According to some accounts about the length of the convoy, at one point the head of the convoy was at New Dayton, while the vehicles following were still leaving Lethbridge.
Supporters camped out in the early-morning hours all along Highway 4 from Lethbridge to Coutts as semis, trucks and other vehicles dotted the highway with Canadian flags flowing, waiting to greet or join the convoy.
The convoy arrived in Coutts to a throng of flag-waving supporters lining Highway 4 leading to the border as well as multiple motorists honking their horns in support.
Just north of Coutts, supporters continued to line both sides of the highway and in the median as well with multiple trucks and campers set up.
Back in Lethbridge Saturday afternoon, the support continued as demonstrators lined Henderson Lake on Mayor Magrath, signs and flags in hand, garnering honks of support from passing motorists.
On Saturday night, drivers continued to show their support, cruising city streets and honking their horns with their Canadian flags flowing in the breeze.
Chelle Landry, who travelled from Lethbridge to support the convoy in Coutts, said participants are fighting for the rights of all Canadians.
“(Vaccine mandates) are affecting our livelihoods, our families and that of all Canadians,” said Landry. “It’s just unacceptable for the government to be pushing this on us.”
Landry said she is in this “for the long haul” and will stay until all mandates are lifted, especially as they pertain to mandatory vaccinations in certain workforces.
She spoke to The Canadian Press from inside the Smuggler’s Saloon. Members of the convoy rented out the space, which was filled with dozens of unmasked protesters at various times on Monday.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said on the weekend that it is up to local authorities to enforce provincial legislation, which allows for additional penalties against protesters blockading highways and other infrastructure.
The law, passed by his United Conservative government last year, protects railways, highways and pipelines from anyone trespassing, interfering with operations and construction, or causing damage.