Ministers, Opposition call for an end to border blockade

By Catherine Griwkowsky February 1, 2022

Jobs Minister Doug Schweitzer said he is “disappointed” his UCP colleague Grant Hunter participated in an “illegal blockade” at the Coutts border crossing on the weekend.

On Saturday, Hunter took his grandchildren to the blockade in support of truckers protesting public health measures, an offshoot of the “freedom convoy” that made its way to Ottawa throughout last week.

Schweitzer stopped short of calling for Hunter’s removal from caucus, telling reporters he wanted to hear the MLA’s explanation.

In a statement to AB Today, Hunter said he supports the protest, but not the blockade.

“This past weekend, I purposefully travelled with some of my family members to the Coutts border to support a peaceful protest of truckers and farmers, as is my constitutional right,” Hunter said.

“I have stated my support to get back to normal in Alberta and move from pandemic to endemic. The truckers and farmers who gathered at the border are at [their] wits’ end with the restrictions, as are most of the Albertans I talk to.”

“I brought the grandkids down to the Coutts border today to show them the importance of standing up for freedom and liberty,” UCP MLA Grant Hunter posted to Facebook on Saturday. (Facebook/Grant Hunter)

NDP Health critic David Shepherd and Transportation critic Lorne Dach called for Hunter to be kicked out of the UCP caucus.

“I can’t believe I have to say this, but an elected member of the legislative assembly must not prevent essential goods from entering our province and block emergency vehicles from attending to Albertans in need,” Dach said. “Grant Hunter cannot continue to speak as a member of the government.”

The NDP also called on UCP MLA Shane Getson to be ousted from caucus after participating in a demonstration where truckers drove from Acheson to the Alberta legislature. The NDP took umbrage with a post on Instagram where Getson called for an end to the vaccine mandates.

“No Canadian should feel that they are receiving a different response from our justice system or how we operate in terms of protests than another,” Shepherd said when asked by reporters about uneven enforcement of this blockade compared to previous enforcement against Black and Indigenous protesters.

Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney said she heard reports that 50 to 100 truckers have been stranded on the U.S. side of the border since the blockade began on Saturday.

“Some haven’t eaten, others have medical issues,” Sawhney tweeted. “Everyone has the right to protest peacefully, but our supply chain and the livelihoods of those trying to cross the border shouldn’t suffer because of that.”

The Canadian Meat Council, meanwhile, said there were 150 loads of Canadian beef stuck at the border.

Independent MLA Drew Barnes expressed full support of the protest.

“What Jason Kenney, in particular, needs to understand is that these protests are against his own government’s policies as much as they are against the federal government’s,” Barnes said. “His hypocritical attempts to play both sides of this issue are blatantly apparent and further frustrating the situation.”

RCMP still mulling enforcement measures

RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Curtis Peters told AB Today the blockade is “no longer a lawful protest” and the police are considering enforcement measures.

“We’re continuing to try and resolve this conflict and situation as effectively as possible with the least amount of force or intervention as we can,” he said in an interview on Monday morning.

Schweitzer, who was justice minister when the government brought in theCritical Infrastructure Defence Act, said the law was “110 per cent” designed to be used in circumstances like the blockade but noted it is up to police to take action.

At the start of the protest, RCMP led the convoy as part of the police’s role to maintain peace in the demonstration, said Peters, who noted that did not equate to an endorsement of the truckers’ position.

In Sweet Grass, Montana on the U.S. side of the border, the town is reliant on volunteer firefighters from Coutts, currently blocked by the convoy.

Local EMS has also had to find an alternate route on an unnamed dirt road that cuts through a yard, Peters said.

Fearing for safety, both on the road and due to potential confrontation with protesters, the bus drivers who take Coutts students to school opted to cancel their routes on Monday.

“There’s a lot of public safety considerations that perhaps the protesters aren’t aware of or haven’t considered,” Peters said. “I hope that they can have a look at it from other perspectives and come to a different solution.”

Peters said while there were well over 100 vehicles on site as well as foot traffic, he could not give an accurate estimate of numbers.