‘The big picture’: Alberta border protesters planning to stay for the long haul

‘The big picture’: Alberta border protesters planning to stay for the long haul
Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press courtesy of CBC

COUTTS, Alta. — Alberta’s vaccine passport is gone but protesters are promising to hunker down for the long term on the highway leading to the province’s main U.S. border crossing.

Any thought that the announcement Tuesday by Premier Jason Kenney to scrap the public health measure at midnight and to remove most other rules in Alberta by March 1 would end the protest near Coutts, Alta., was quickly put to bed.

“We’re here for the big picture. It started with the border thing, it started with Trudeau and until Trudeau moves, we don’t move,” said John Vanreeuwyk, a feedlot operator from Coaldale, Alta.

Vanreeuwyk said he’s grateful for the steps that Kenney has taken but is angry that people still have to wear a mask.

“Overall it’s disappointing. Yeah, there was some good that come out of it but not even a 10 per cent.”

The protesters have closed and opened the lanes of Highway 4 on and off. RCMP said late Tuesday night the lanes were again closed due to the protest.

Those involved in the protest stood around burning barrels for warmth. Dozens of trucks, trailers and cars lined both sides of the highway. A generator provided electricity and spirits were high.

“We’ve got guys here — they’ve lost everything due to these mandates and they’re not giving up and they’re willing to stand their ground and keep going until this is done,” Vanreeuwyk said.

“The harder the politicians push the larger this is going to get.”

Demonstrators started a blockade at Coutts late last month in solidarity with similar events in Ottawa and countrywide to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and broader public health measures.

The impasse has stranded travellers and cross-border truckers, compromised millions of dollars in trade and impeded access to basic goods and medical services for area residents.

A growing number of people continued to gather at a police checkpoint north of the village.

Garrett Buchanan drove 10 hours from High Prairie in northern Alberta to join the protest.

“It’s a good cause, everybody just wants to help. People are bringing fuel, food, free everything, anything to help the cause. It’s a really good movement,” Buchanan said.

He said he’s staying put until their demands are met.

“Yeah – until the mandates get dropped and if they can work on getting (Trudeau) out I’d stay longer for that too.”

About 50 trucks remain at the Coutts border crossing.

Coutts Mayor Jim Willett had hoped the provincial government would go further in its announcement and isn’t expecting things to return to normal in the near future.

“I’m a little anxious over what the reaction is going to be,” said Willett.

“Leaving masking until March 1 is not going to make anybody happy either — anybody in the protest group or in rural Alberta is probably not going to be happy about that.”

Willett said he will continue meeting with the truckers and hopes things remain civil.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2022

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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