AMHERST, N.S. — Nova Scotia RCMP arrested three people Wednesday evening at a blockade of the Trans-Canada Highway near the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border.
The blockade began Tuesday afternoon as a protest to travel restrictions imposed by Nova Scotia on travellers coming from New Brunswick.
Traffic was blocked for more than 24 hours, leading to disruptions on both sides of the border to individuals, businesses and vital services such including health care.
“On one hand, every single one of us have the right to protest but you can’t block a highway. That’s a criminal offence so it’s very much a balancing act,” said Cpl. Chris Marshall, Public Information Officer with Nova Scotia RCMP.
RCMP say between 9 and 10 p.m. Thursday, officers were able to peacefully dismantle the illegal blockade and move the protestors out of the roadway.
Police say three protestors who failed to comply were arrested for mischief. They were later released on undertakings and will appear in court at a later date.
“The RCMP respects the Charter right of all Canadians to peacefully assemble, however blockading a highway is a criminal offence and this type of action will not be tolerated,” said the RCMP in a news release issued Thursday. “Our members balanced the protestors’ rights with enforcing the law and after unsuccessfully trying to resolve the blockade through dialogue, the protestors left the RCMP with no choice other than to move in and beginning effecting arrests in an effort to dismantle the blockade and reopen the highway.”
As of 10 p.m. Wednesday, eastbound traffic was flowing again, after the Trans-Canada Highway was closed to traffic for more than 24 hours, with vehicles and protesters blocking the east and westbound lanes near the Nova Scotia Visitor’s Centre.
The RCMP says they are maintaining a presence at the border as of Thursday afternoon.
During a live news conference on Wednesday, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs encouraged protesters at the border to end the blockade, saying this isn’t the time to lose control or patience.
“This is a time that we exercise restraint, we keep moving in a direction that’s getting us back to life as normal … We are on the cusp here of getting back to green,” said Higgs.
Higgs says he has a meeting scheduled with the Atlantic premiers Wednesday afternoon to discuss the issues around the border and hopes to come to a mutual solution.
“I am confident, once they understand what we’re doing and have been doing for 16 months to protect the entire Atlantic region hasn’t changed,” said Higgs. “We are very comfortable with the recommendations of public health, we’re very comfortable with the capabilities that they’ve demonstrated throughout the entire pandemic and I’ve never been more confident in our path forward as New Brunswickers, and as an Atlantic region, as we work together.”
Protesters say they’re frustrated with Nova Scotia’s last-minute decision to open up to all three Atlantic provinces, but require anyone entering the province from New Brunswick to self-isolate, following New Brunswick’s decision to reopen to the rest of country.
As of 8 a.m. on Wednesday, travellers from Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador can enter Nova Scotia for any reason and will no longer have to self-isolate or complete the Nova Scotia Safe Check-in form.
However, travellers from New Brunswick will have a modified quarantine period, depending on their vaccination status and a negative test result. Nova Scotia says those modified quarantine rules will also apply to the rest of the country on June 30.
Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin encouraged people to join the protest in a video posted to Facebook late Tuesday afternoon.
“People that hadn’t seen their family since November were planning on seeing them tomorrow in fact some people went today thinking that they’ll be able to come home tomorrow without having to self-isolate,” Smith McCrossin said at the protest.
The protesters said they planned to stay on the highway until Nova Scotia changes the restrictions.
“They’re going against the Charter of Rights because this is a peaceful protest,” said Amelia Farrer. “Most of us are on the grass. Like, I don’t think they can do anything.”
Another protester, Gordon Pye said protesters were letting essential travellers through, such as a truck carrying blood, and another one carrying medicine.
“We didn’t hold anybody back that we didn’t have to,” Pye said.”They’re just going to fine all of us citizens for standing up for what we believe in. I’m disgusted. If they force me to leave I’m gonna have to leave and see what else I can do, a different route or something.”
“I don’t have the capability of going there, coming back, and isolating,” added protester Norma Estabrooks.
Carol Dixon also joined the protest.
“I believe the premier of Nova Scotia needs to open the Nova Scotia border so we can travel freely across the border,” Dixon said.
“The border should be open. It should’ve been open for a long time. No reason why Rankin doesn’t open the border,” said Brad Ross, who has been parked on the highway since before midnight.
Ross was at the protest along Highway 104 near Thomson Station Tuesday afternoon as well, along with dozens of others.
“We’re just trying to prove our point. This COVID thing is out of control,” Ross said.
“We’re here to protest this decision for keeping the border closed again,” said Jeremiah Seitl, another protester who spent the night blocking the highway. “How is it that P.E.I. can travel unrestricted through New Brunswick but we can’t travel into New Brunswick, Sackville, places like that to see our families?”The protest began Tuesday afternoon on Highway 104 at Exit 7, closing the section between Thomson Station, N.S. and the Cobequid Pass toll booth, but has since moved closer to the border between the provinces.
The protest forced truckers and travellers to a standstill until traffic could be diverted.
“Well I’d like to be home, that’s about all I can say,” said tow-truck driver Ari Sawyer.
NOVA SCOTIA MONITORING ISSUES RELATED TO HIGHWAY BLOCKADE
Government officials in Nova Scotia are closely monitoring issues related to a blockade on Highway 104, near the border with New Brunswick because it is “disrupting the movement of important goods and services and could put individuals at risk,” the province said in a news release.
The province’s Emergency Management Office is aware of how the blockade is affecting the supply chain of vital goods such as refrigerated trucks carrying perishable foods that could spoil if they run out of fuel, medication to pharmacies, propane supplies for industrial customers, wholesale food deliveries to restaurants, and feed to farmers for their livestock.
“The longer this goes on the more risk there is that someone might not be able to get something they need,” said Inclusive Economic Growth Minister Labi Kousoulis. “There are workers who need to cross the border daily for their jobs, business owners depending on shipments for their livelihoods and trucks filled with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of seafood exports. The situation needs to end as soon as possible.”
The blockade has also disrupted health-care services at the Cumberland Regional Health Centre, including the cancellation of more than 100 appointments for important services such as prenatal, services for children with autism and pacemaker care, the province said in a news release. It has also disrupted vital home care for residents in Cumberland County and stopping fragile test samples for children with life-threatening conditions coming from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island from arriving at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.