RCMP says open investigations underway into ongoing Coutts border protest
Police said around 1,500 people gathered at Central Memorial Park in Calgary on Saturday to protest mandates
As an ongoing protest impeding travel to the United States border enters Day 8, police have been monitoring several other demonstrations taking place around Alberta Saturday in solidarity with anti-vaccine-mandate protesters in Ottawa.
On Saturday, RCMP issued a statement on Twitter saying it appreciated those individuals at the Coutts, Alta., border protests who are having their voices heard in a "lawful way," while adding that it had "several open investigations underway."
"We are aware not all individuals are following the law," the tweet reads.
Protesters at the border town of Coutts, Alta., have now been on site for more than a week. For the time being, they are staying put, after a plan made earlier this week to vacate the site and head north to a protest in Edmonton was scrapped.
Vocal supporters remaining near the border eventually influenced organizers to change course. Among them was Calgary-based street pastor Artur Pawlowski, who was previously charged with breaking health regulations.
"This movement is snowballing. You've seen the effects," said Marco Van Huigenbos, one of the organizers of the southern Alberta convoy and a town councillor for Fort Macleod, Alta.
WATCH | Many locals support Alberta border blockade despite disruptions:
On Friday, lanes to the border opened and closed intermittently, with protesters moving in to block southbound traffic on Highway 4 on at least one occasion.
One protester told CBC News at the time that the move was made because not enough progress was being made toward the group's goals of lifting pandemic mandates.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said a firm date to relax all public health restrictions will be announced next week.
That has been met with concern from some health experts, who have pushed back against that plan as Alberta's COVID-related daily death counts remain in the double digits.
It's also been met with scorn from the Opposition NDP, who said the premier appears to be pandering to the protesters.
"There was no action taken by this government … go to the court, get the injunction and let RCMP do their thing," said Alberta NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir.
On Saturday morning, some protesters gathered just north of Coutts, near the town of Milk River, Alta., while others rode south on horseback toward the border.
According to RCMP, the length of the blockade was around four to five kilometres and is taking under two hours to cross.
Some have also moved north and plan to demonstrate at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, or at multiple other pop-up protests around the province this weekend.
Coutts Mayor Jim Willett said the ongoing protest in southern Alberta has been hard on residents in his village.
"It's not just hard on my residents. It's hard on small farmers, and people who have to ship across this border," he said.
The demonstration is tied to an ongoing national protest that organizers call the Freedom Convoy. Initially, it began to push back against federal rules for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated truckers that took effect Jan. 15.
Since launching late last month, the rally has grown to include other protesters opposed to vaccine mandates and other public health measures, and they have settled in Ottawa for over a week.
Due to the protest violating its rules on violence and harassment, the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe said Friday that it would stop payments to the organizers of Freedom Convoy 2022 and refund donors directly.
A spokesperson with GoFundMe confirmed to CBC News on Saturday that it had also removed a fundraiser specifically intended to benefit the Coutts border protest.
Local demonstrations to show support are scheduled across Canada Saturday.
In Calgary, police said around 1,500 people gathered at Central Memorial Park Saturday afternoon. There is a large police presence in the area.
"Typical of those types of protests, there were about three or four speakers who said their piece," said Staff Sgt. John Guigon with Calgary police. "Thus far, it's been peaceful. They've been pretty good at following directions and following the set route."
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) said extra security was in place near the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre in anticipation of that protest.
Protestors have previously blocked the ambulance bay and harassed workers and patients accessing the centre, said union vice-president Bobby-Joe Borodey.
Calgary police was also monitoring a convoy of vehicles making its way along Stoney Trail on Saturday, adding there were around 80 vehicles participating.
"We've had enough, we want the mandates gone," said Diane Inkin, one of the organizers of the vehicle protest.
Guigon with Calgary police said there had been no issues or incidents to report at this time, aside from honking and other noise that residents may not have appreciated.
He said those participating in the route have moved a little slower than police would like, at a speed of around 30 kilometres per hour.
With files from Nassima Way, Carolyn Dunn, Jennifer Dorozio, Erin Collins and Helen Pike