Protesters at Alberta border crossing decline to move to new site as RCMP issue tickets

RCMP began issuing tickets to protesters illegally blockading the border at Coutts, Alta., on Wednesday as efforts to have them move to a different location were met with defiance. 

Border blockaded again Tuesday following announcement from Alberta premier of loosened restrictions

RCMP officers seen at the Coutts, Alta., border blockade on Wednesday. (CBC)

RCMP began issuing tickets to protesters illegally blockading the border at Coutts, Alta., on Wednesday as efforts to have them move to a different location were met with defiance.

A Facebook live stream posted by one of the people at the border, Brant Hansen, showed protesters linking arms and shouting "freedom" as an RCMP officer told the crowd no one was going to jail and traffic tickets were being issued to people for leaving their vehicles on the road. 

Approximately 20 RCMP officers were seen entering the area. Some were met with verbal altercations, about who the RCMP report to, followed by the crowd praying for the RCMP. 

RCMP were seen taking the licence plate numbers of the vehicles parked in the area. 

Earlier Wednesday, RCMP said they were going to try to have protesters move to a second location.

Four RCMP officers stand in front of RCMP vehicles.
RCMP near the blockade at Coutts, Alta., on Wednesday afternoon. (Nassima Way/CBC)

Police were met with anger and chants of "Hell no, we won't go" as officers attempted to persuade protesters camped near the border crossing to move to the other location.

Supt. Roberta McKale with the Alberta RCMP said a safe location has been provided near Milk River, Alta. She said officers would try to encourage protesters to move there, beginning at 1 p.m. 

McKale said RCMP want people to choose to move on their own, but police are prepared to enact further enforcement, including ticketing people in an approach she called soft enforcement as part of a phased intervention.

"Up until this point, it's been us asking them. This afternoon, we don't have an option, we're going to have to use our enforcement options in order to have that happen," she said. 

"You can't arrest your way out of the choices that people are making … the best thing is for them to make the decision to leave. And they've got to go."

She said even if protesters unblock the border, they will need to leave the area. 

Protesters have been at the land border for 12 days with on-and-off blockades, making travel between the United States and Canada not possible at times. 

Supt. Roberta McKale speaks to reporters Wednesday in front of one of two protest sites near Coutts, Alta. (CBC)

Both directions of traffic remained closed Wednesday morning due to the blockade. Protesters have been demanding an end to vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers, as well as the lifting of a host of other public health restrictions related to COVID-19.

The most recent closure comes after Premier Jason Kenney said Tuesday evening that Alberta's vaccine passport would end at midnight, with most other COVID-19 health restrictions set to be lifted three weeks later.

McKale said RCMP are not commenting on the number of police and support agencies on site, but notes different levels of RCMP have been on scene all week. 

Public safety for all is a concern, McKale said, adding protesters have set up fire pits in ditches, posing a fire risk with high winds. RCMP have already issued some tickets.

"Consuming alcohol in the middle of the night and then wandering on the road is unsafe," she said. 

Danny McKay, a protest participant, told CBC News on Tuesday that she will not be leaving the protest. (Nassima Way/CBC)

'Holding the line' 

Protester Jerry Eagles, an electrician, said he was prepared to be ticketed.

"We're holding the line here …This is where we're holding the line and we're not moving," he said.

Another protester agreed.

"We're here for the big picture. It started with the border thing. It started with [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau, and until Trudeau moves, we don't move," said John Vanreeuwyk, a feedlot operator from Coaldale, Alta.

Vanreeuwyk said he's grateful for the steps that Premier Jason Kenney has taken but is angry that people still have to wear a mask.

"We've got guys here — they've lost everything due to these mandates. They're not giving up and they're willing to stand their ground and keep going until this is done," Vanreeuwyk said.

"The harder the politicians push, the larger this is going to get."

Danny McKay, a protest participant and tattoo artist, told CBC News on Tuesday that she thinks the announcement that public health restrictions in the province would be eased is "lies and empty promises." 

She said the protesters aren't leaving, and they will honk horns until "freedoms improve."

She said she wants all public health mandates immediately lifted.

Additional reinforcements from federal government 

Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino said the federal government will continue to provide reinforcements through the RCMP wherever it can, including in Alberta, and there will be additional officers provided at the request of the government to Alberta. 

He said the federal government "very recently approved" a request, at the recommendation of the RCMP commissioner, to allow for additional reinforcements to be provided at Coutts.

A truck convoy of anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate demonstrators block the highway at the busy U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alta., on Feb. 2. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Mendicino said the Canada Border Services Agency is redirecting traffic to the Del Bonita and Carway border crossings in Alberta, where additional resources have been added to deal with the increased traffic.

"The Coutts-Sweetgrass crossing is the only one between Winnipeg and Vancouver with the capacity to handle many of these goods, which support thousands of jobs across Western Canada."

With files from The Canadian Press, Nassima Way, Charlotte Dumoulin, Tony Seskus