June 18th, 2024

Clearing Coutts blockade proving difficult

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on February 9, 2022.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Alberta’s provincial government respects the right of people to lawfully protest but the blockades at Coutts and Milk River need to end, acting Justice Minister and Solicitor General Sonya Savage said Tuesday afternoon.
Savage, along with RCMP deputy commissioner Curtis Zablocki, provided an update about the ongoing blockade near the Alberta-Montana border.
Zablocki said significant progress has been made in negotiations to end the blockades but moving trucks and other vehicles blocking Highway 4 is not an easy task.
He said it requires specialized equipment and operators and area towing companies have refused to assist, implying that doing so could damage their livelihood in the future.
“The blockade at the Coutts border crossing is a rapidly evolving situation,” Savage said.
And it’s one that poses challenges for law enforcement.
Savage said the UCP will always stand up for the democratic right to protest “so long as they respect the rule of the law and the free operation of society.”
But the constitutional rights of freedom of assembly and expression have reasonable limits, she added.
“When protesters threaten public safety, disrupt the public peace or prevent Albertans from accessing vital infrastructure, then they open themselves up to potential actions from law enforcement.
“We believe the Coutts blockade has crossed this line. It has severely inconvenienced lawful motorists, it’s prevented commercial goods from reaching their destination and it has the potential to impede emergency vehicles from reaching people in need of aid,” she said.
“The situation has become intolerable and it has to end,” she added, saying enforcement decisions are always the decision of law enforcement agencies.
Blockade participants can face charges under the Criminal Code, provincial statutes and the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act which carries “significant consequences, not just fines but possible jail time as well,” she said.
Savage said she shares the frustrations of Albertans who want an end to the blockade and the desire of many to return life to normal. RCMP and local law enforcement agencies are sharing information and working in tandem to control the situation and maintain public safety.
“But what action they may take against the various participants in this blockade is at their independent discretion.”
Zablocki said actions are being taken which include considering the safety of everyone.
“These safety concerns are very real and unnecessary risks will not be taken. As the police service lead in this operation, it’s our discretion as to how and when enforcement is used,” he said.
“It’s our goal to ensure any actions are used to advance resolution, not to increase the volatility and potential for violence in Coutts or anywhere in the province.”
Since the blockade started, police have worked to establish an environment where they are confident they can maintain the peace and safety of everyone.
Operational priorities beyond that include keeping the border open for crossing, he said, and to ensure citizens in the affected area have safe passage through the protest area.
Police have managed “through continual dialogue to achieve those goals without violence or escalating tension at the sites, Zablocki said.
Since the Coutts blockade started, police have worked to keep the border crossing open, he added.
“Since the beginning of this event, we’ve made some significant progress on those goals including the maintaining border crossings, assisting citizens caught in the convoys inadvertently, ensuring open access to the community of Coutts for its citizens and assisting U.S. truck drivers in returning to the United States.”
He said it’s been accomplished without violence or a complete shutdown of the highway.
Police have seen illegal and reckless activities at the blockades and are investigating.
“This does not end when the road is cleared,” he said.

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