COUTTS, Alta. — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says a truck convoy that's blockaded a highway at a busy U.S. border crossing as part of a protest against vaccine mandates violates the province's Traffic Safety Act and must end immediately.
The Canada Border Services Agency said the U.S. border crossing at Coutts, Alta., has remained open despite the blockade on Highway 4, but RCMP say only foot traffic is able to get through.
"As I said last week, Canadians have a democratic right to engage in lawful protests. I urge those involved in this truck convoy protest to do so as safely as possible, and not to create road hazards which could lead to accidents or unsafe conditions for other drivers," Kenney said Sunday in a statement from Washington, D.C., where he is attending a National Governors Association meeting.
The convoy was one of many in Canadian towns and cities that were held this weekend to coincide with a national convoy of truckers and their supporters in Ottawa protesting vaccine mandates, COVID-19 measures and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government.
RCMP Cpl. Curtis Peters initially said emergency vehicles were unable to enter Coutts if they were needed, but he updated that Sunday, saying an ambulance has been able to enter the village.
He noted access to Coutts is available via a gravel road through a field that passenger vehicles can use, but not semis.
"It's almost a trail. It has gravel on it," Peters said. "I don't think it has a name, but it's passable."
Peters said no arrests have been made.
Kenney noted in his statement that Alberta's Critical Infrastructure Defence Act gives police and prosecutors additional penalties they can levy to address blockades of highways and other infrastructure.
The law, passed by his United Conservative government last year, protects railways, highways and pipelines from anyone trespassing, interfering with operations and construction, or causing damage.
"Operational enforcement decisions are the responsibility of police services, and enforcement at the border crossing itself is in part a federal responsibility," Kenney noted in his statement.
Peters wouldn't say whether the law could be used in this case, saying he would not discuss operations, tactics or planning.
Alberta RCMP issued a statement Sunday evening saying they have been trying to reach a peaceful resolution and that some truck drivers have attempted to leave but couldn't because traffic is immobilized.
The statement said police use a "measured approach" when events become unlawful, which it said "ultimately includes enforcement."
"This event is unlawful and we are asking those who are involved to clear the area," it said.
The border agency said in a news release that travellers should expect extensive delays at the Coutts crossing and advised them to use other crossings and consult the Directory of CBSA Offices and Services to confirm hours of service before heading out.
Peters said authorities in Montana were advising northbound traffic to consider turning around.
Kenney has publicly supported one of the aims of the truck convoy, noting restrictions by both Canada and the U.S. on entry by truckers not vaccinated against COVID-19 further aggravates supply-chain bottlenecks.
The Opposition NDP condemned the blockade and called on Kenney to work to get the border reopened.
"To put it bluntly, a small group first claiming to be concerned about the possibility of grocery shortages have now most assuredly caused them," NDP Leader Rachel Notley said in a news release.
Notley also said her party condemned the "many examples of hateful symbols and vandalism seen across Canada this weekend," and called on Kenney to direct a UCP legislature member to end his participation in the protest.
A social media post on Saturday from Grant Hunter, who represents Cardston-Taber-Warner, showed the MLA posing with family beside trucks in the convoy, although it was not clear if the highway was fully blocked at that point.
Hunter could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
Protesters at the event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa drew condemnation for fastening an inverted Canadian flag and anti-vaccine sign to a statue of Terry Fox, while others were seen jumping on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National War Memorial. One truck flew a Confederate flag, while other protesters misappropriated the Star of David and brandished Nazi symbols and slogans.
Kenney slammed the behavior on Twitter.
"Canadians have a wide range of perspectives on the appropriate government response to the threat of COVID-19 which they are free to express, but we should be united in condemning bigotry and hatred in all its forms," he posted Sunday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2022.
-- By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton
The Canadian Press