Manitoba justice minister calls on Trudeau to 'lower the temperature' on border protests

Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen is calling on the federal government to "do what it can to lower the temperature" with anti-restrictions protesters who are blocking border crossings across the country.

Kelvin Goertzen asks Manitobans to 'think about the reasons that other people feel differently than you do'

Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen speaks to the media at the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg in a September 2021 file photo. (David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen is calling on the federal government to "do what it can to lower the temperature" with anti-restrictions protesters blocking border crossings across the country.

At a news conference Thursday, Goertzen also urged all Manitobans to consider points of view that differ from their own.

"[We] can't have any more of the divisiveness when it comes to some of the rhetoric. We have to bring that down and ensure that we're listening to people," Goertzen said, adding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has to take the lead in doing so.

"I think that'll get us to a better place in terms of how we respond to each other, and that starts with the federal government and Mr. Trudeau stepping back and … looking for a reasonable path forward for all of us through this time and ensure those borders remain open."

He also called on all Manitobans "to step back [and] think about the reasons that other people feel differently than you do. [I'm] not necessarily asking you to change your mind," he said.

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The minister spoke at the Manitoba Legislative Building, where protesters honking horns and calling for an end to vaccine mandates and other pandemic restrictions have now been been stationed for six days.

Another group of anti-restrictions protesters in semi-trailer trucks and other vehicles started blocking all highway lanes at Manitoba's main Canada-U.S. border crossing on Thursday.

That international border is a federal responsibility, so it's up to the federal government to deal with the protesters, Goertzen said.

While protesters have said they want an end to all Manitoba's provincial-level COVID-19 rules, Goertzen said the province so far has no plan to take any action — and that it's up to police to deal with them.

"We've offered what assistance we can in terms of resources, recognizing that operationally this is a police matter," he said.

"I'm sure that there are people today who would say, 'Well, you should direct the police.' And that might feel good today, depending on which side of this debate that you're on.

"But in the long run, having politicians direct police operations is not the right place to be in a democratic society."

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He said he's found some of Trudeau's recent comments about unvaccinated Canadians "unnecessarily divisive" and called on the prime minister to reconsider those types of remarks.

"It's really hard to have dialogue with anybody when the first thing you try to do is try to classify them as less Canadian or something else," he said.

As the prime minister, Trudeau "sets the tone," Goertzen said. 

"It's very, very important, even in disagreement, that he understand that he is still the prime minister for all Canadians [and] try to find a way through this border impasse that has tremendous implications for us from an economic perspective and for Canadians," he said.

"It's not an easy thing to do … But it is his responsibility as the prime minister."

Goertzen said he hopes to soon speak with Marco Mendicino, the federal public safety and emergency preparedness minister, about what steps Ottawa can take to work with border protesters and open up roadways.

"This needs to be resolved and it needs to be resolved with a federal government that is willing to engage with people to try to come to a resolution," he said.

While Goertzen wouldn't specify a date by which he hopes to see protesters return home, he said the current demonstrations "can't go on forever."

"I think that their point has been heard and I think that there is going to come a time when absolutely, we have to move on from this."

Province's response 'shameful': opposition leaders

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew reiterated comments he made earlier this week, calling on Premier Heather Stefanson to speak to the people of the province.

"We saw a severe escalation in the crisis in our province today, and for the premier not to show up it's a failure of leadership," Kinew said.

"And instead, to see a minister come out and make excuses and try to lay blame in other places just shows how the PCs are not responding to this current situation in the way that Manitobans want them to."

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew says the premier needs to address the anti-restrictions protesters and tell them to go home. (Kevin King/The Canadian Press)

He added that blaming the prime minister for the blockade at the Canada-U.S. border isn't warranted because the province has a bevy of tools at its disposal to de-escalate the convoy, even alleging protesters "have some sympathies around the cabinet table."

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said in a statement it's "shameful" the province is laying blaming elsewhere.

"The justice minister and the Stefanson PCs have essentially given [protesters] encouragement to keep on blocking highways, hospitals and harassment," Lamont said.

"To call for balance while blaming the prime minister for 'divisive rhetoric' and remaining silent about open threats of injury or death is reckless."

Lamont would have preferred Goertzen called for a court injunction.

"Instead, protesters who have demonstrated contempt for the law, and the lives and livelihoods of their fellow Manitobans have been given a pat on the back," Lamont added. "This is moral bankruptcy."