Protestors opposed to vaccine mandates stopped traffic at two key border crossings in Western Canada. Others vowed they would stay, even as Justin Trudeau used an emergency law to give his government the power to lift blockades.
Monday was a day of closure at the main border crossings in Alberta and Manitoba. Commercial traffic to the United States was blocked by semitrailers and agricultural equipment that were driven by opponents to Covid-19.
The crossings — one of which leads to Pembina, North Dakota and the other to Sweet Grass, Montana — are the second- and third-busiest for freight trucks along the western border of the two countries. The combined number of trucks that entered the U.S.A from Canada was 392,000, according to U.S. Department of Transportation statistics. Both were still closed to commercial vehicles as of 12:14 a.m. New York time on Tuesday, according to Canada’s border agency.
The protests started in reaction to Canadian and U.S. laws requiring truckers crossing the border to be fully vaccinated, but they’ve morphed into a rally against Covid restrictions. After a group of demonstrators blocked the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Ontario for six days, snarling trade, Trudeau invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act on Monday.
It gives the government authority to ban public assemblies in certain areas and to request property that can be used to manage the situation. This includes tow trucks. It also attempts to cut off fund-raising activities for the protesters — expanding money-laundering provisions and allowing banks to freeze accounts without a court order.
Canada has seen protests that were mostly peaceful. But not all of them. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police took part in Monday’s protests. arrestedThe Alberta protest included 12 participants who seized ammunition and other weapons including a machete. The RCMP said they believed the group had “a willingness to use force against the police if any attempts were made to disrupt the blockade.”
A few miles north of the Coutts border, Alberta post, protestors railed against Trudeau, government incompetence, and the highway.
“I grew up in Europe and I’ve been to eastern European countries and I’ve seen what communism does to a country. It’s not what we want in Canada,” said Gary Baarda, a 52-year-old retired dairy farmer and immigrant from the Netherlands. If police try to break up the protests, “we will go arm-in-arm. They have the option to remove us, or fire at us. We will not be violent.”
Emerson, Manitoba protesters permitted live-animal transport trucks to cross the border. Other U.S. vehicles, however, were required to seek alternate routes. Hon Cheah was a truck driver and had to phone his dispatch to report that he couldn’t pass the Manitoba blocking while trying to move 32,000lbs of fish to Wisconsin. “Now I can’t go through,” Cheah said. “I hope they stop it.”
Emerson Blockade was comprised approximately 75 vehicles that were parked along the southbound and northbound lanes. Tractors outfitted with “no more mandate” signs were flanked by pickup trucks with Canadian flags. A total of six semi-trailers were included in the convoy. Campers were scattered around the highway. Some protesters are there since days.
“I’m risking everything I have,” said Jake Klassen, 39, who has been a truck driver for nearly two decades and drives three weeks of the month hauling loads to the U.S. as an owner-operator. “I want to be able to have my own choice.”
At the Emerson blockade, Klassen is able to park two campers as well his semi-trailer. They could potentially be seized; Klassen described Trudeau’s move to invoke emergency powers as a “scare tactic” so “they can take everything from us,” he said.
Klassen said he hasn’t been able to visit his nine-year-old daughter in months. She is receiving palliative care at St. Amant, a care residence in Winnipeg, but due to restrictions that require visitors to be fully vaccinated, Klassen and his wife can’t see her.
“This is something worth fighting for,” he said.
Marshall Bock 21, a farmer from Alberta said that the government’s mandates regarding vaccines was an example of too many regulations. “I think it should always have been free choice,” said Bock, adding that he was willing to get arrested. Shutting the border “to get the government to hear you, I think it makes a point.”
Some protestors decided that they had proved their point soon after. After declaring that they would be leaving, the protestors sang O Canada, their national anthem. The horns of trucks blared.