'A perfect solution': Manitoba border blockade ends as RCMP escort protesters away

The last of the protesters involved in the week-long Canada-U.S. border blockade at Emerson, Man., have been escorted away by RCMP and all lanes have been reopened to traffic.

$73M in trade impacted every day Emerson border was closed: Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland

RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Paul Manaigre speaks to media on Wednesday near the Emerson border crossing. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

The last of the protesters involved in the weeklong Canada-U.S. border blockade at Emerson, Man., have been escorted away by RCMP and all lanes were reopened to traffic as of early Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm feeling real relief because it's been a long week and a lot of our businesses have suffered here," said Dave Carlson, reeve for the municipality of Emerson-Franklin.

"[I'm] relieved that they're going to be back in business and also relieved that this has been done peacefully."

Up to 75 vehicles — including semi-trailer trucks, pickup trucks, farm and construction machinery and even snowplows — had blocked the border crossing since Feb. 10.

Some trucks started pulling out Tuesday, when the Mounties said they had reached a resolution and were co-ordinating an end to the blockade with those protesters still there.

"We didn't want to rush in" and issue tickets or make arrests, RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Paul Manaigre said Wednesday morning during a news conference on Highway 75 near the U.S. border.

"Communication resulted in what we have today. To me it was the best course of action," he said when asked why it took a week to deal with an issue that Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has said affected $73 million in trade a day.

The situation has been resolved without injuries, arrests, charges or anything being towed, he said.

"It's a perfect solution."

A different situation in a different province might call for swifter action and perhaps have a different outcome, Manaigre said.

"But we felt, like I say, the way the situation was developing here, we needed to take a prudent and safe measure."

The promise of no arrests in exchange for a peaceful departure was part of the dialogue the RCMP had with the protesters over the past few days, he said.

"They wanted to get their message across, which I believe they have, and we wanted to make sure they understood where we were coming from."

An RCMP pickup truck escorts protest vehicles from the Emerson border crossing on Wednesday. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

The discussions over the past week were good but the fear of violence erupting or the presence of weapons is always in the back of the RCMP's mind, Manaigre said.

"There's been no information to suggest that was a possibility but it's part of the planning, part of our contingencies, " he said. "We have to be prepared for it."

Earlier this week, RCMP in Alberta arrested a number of people who were part of a protest near a U.S. border crossing in that province. A cache of firearms and ammunition was found in three trailers, police said.

While all lanes heading to U.S. customs were blockaded at Emerson for the past several days, protesters allowed some cargo, such as medical supplies and livestock, to pass through.

Manaigre said there has been no assurance the border protesters will not return in the future or conduct temporary measures like last month's slow parade of vehicles driving loops on Highway 75 to cause traffic backups.

"We're not aware of anything at this moment [but] there's always situations that can develop," he said.

"Right now, we'll focus on today and learn from [that]."

Another protest on Broadway, in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building in downtown Winnipeg, has been going on for about two weeks and remains in place.

Both are part of a number of demonstrations in cities and border crossings across Canada by people who oppose COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and a federal vaccine mandate for truckers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act Monday, for the first in time in Canada's history, to give the federal government extra powers to handle ongoing protests against pandemic restrictions.

Emerson typically sees about 1,000 trucks cross the border each day, Carlson said.

"We have a great relationship with our friends and neighbours across the [border] here and we look forward to being able to see them again, visit with them and do business with them."

Reopening reaction

In an email statement on Wednesday, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum told CBC News he is grateful for the work of the RCMP, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson and other provincial officials to resolve the border situation peacefully and resume cross-border traffic.

As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations decrease, he is urging the federal governments in both Canada and the U.S. to consider reinstating vaccine exemptions for cross-border truck drivers.

Jenn Froese says the blockades and protests have united Canadians and reignited a dormant patriotism. (Radio-Canada/CBC)

Jenn Froese, one of the protesters at the Emerson border, said she does not feel the demonstrators' efforts failed, but rather emboldened a lost patriotism for Canadians.

While generally, Americans have tended to display flags outside their homes and on vehicles more than Canadians, that's now changed, she suggested.

"That's what this is doing, it's bringing us together," she said.

"I feel that we need to show the government that we need to be heard. I think the battle is … we need to show our Canadian flag and show our support for the side of the government that's fighting for us."

A protester leaving the Emerson border blockade displays an upside down Canadian flag and a number of messages. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

A group representing Canadian manufacturers issued a release saying it applauds the end of the blockade, but wants all levels of government "to develop tailored solutions" for each border crossing in Canada to prevent future disruptions.

"The [Emerson] crossing is Manitoba's most important connection to its largest market — the United States," said Ron Koslowsky, vice-president of the Manitoba division of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, in the release.

"Canada's trade and transportation infrastructure, which is crucial to the lives of Canadians and their livelihoods, must be protected.

"The right to protest is an enshrined right which we wholeheartedly support but it's never acceptable to hold the jobs and livelihoods of Manitobans at ransom."

Manitoba border blockade ends

1 year ago
Duration 2:36
The last of the protesters involved in the weeklong Canada-U.S. border blockade at Emerson, Man., have been escorted away by RCMP and all lanes were reopened to traffic as of early Wednesday afternoon.


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.