COUTTS, ALTA. — A long line of trucks is building at Alberta’s main crossing into the United States as protesters against pandemic restrictions once again block the highway leading to the border village of Coutts.
Demonstrators pulled farm equipment as well as several large tractors across what had been open lanes of Highway 4 on Tuesday night.
More than 70 trucks were waiting Wednesday to pass the RCMP checkpoint north of the village, while nearly 30 trucks carrying cattle were stopped before the town of Milk River, about 20 kilometres from the border.
“Overnight, protesters blocked off Highway 4 north and south in Coutts and that has resulted in some significant traffic disruptions. We’re having to divert border traffic once again,” RCMP Cpl. Curtis Peters said.
“Particularly with cattle liners, if they have livestock on board, we’re giving them a warning that they should divert before being held up for an indeterminate amount of time.”
Demonstrators set up a blockade at the crossing late last month in solidarity with similar ones in Ottawa and other cities. The impasse stranded travellers and cross-border truckers before one lane of traffic was cleared in each direction.
The truckers agreed to allow vehicles to pass, but traffic has been disrupted a number of times.
Protesters are promising to hunker down for the long term, despite an announcement that Alberta is scrapping most of its COVID-19 protocols — including the vaccine passport as of Wednesday.
“We’re here for the big picture. It started with the border thing. It started with (Prime Minister Justin) 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 (it’s) not even a 10 per cent (improvement).
“We’ve got guys here — they’ve lost everything due to these mandates. They’re not giving up and they’re willing to stand their ground and keep going until this is done,” Vanreeuwyk added.
“The harder the politicians push, the larger this is going to get.”
A growing number of people continued to gather at a police checkpoint north of Coutts.
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,” Buchanan said.
He’s staying put until their demands are met, he said.
“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 remained at the Coutts crossing.
Mayor Jim Willett had hoped the provincial government would go further. He 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 … anybody in the protest group or in rural Alberta is probably not going to be happy about that.”
Willett said he will continue to meet with the truckers and he hopes things remain civil.