Protesters blockading major Canada-U.S. border crossing in Manitoba allow livestock, medical vehicles through
Highway 75 blocked in both directions by farm equipment, semi-trailer trucks and more
Protesters in semi-trailer trucks, farm equipment and other vehicles who have blocked all highway lanes at Manitoba's main Canada-U.S. border crossing since Thursday morning have begun letting livestock and medical vehicles through.
About 50 vehicles, which also include snowplows and construction machinery, have blocked off both northbound and southbound lanes on Highway 75, RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Paul Manaigre told CBC News.
The police have begun discussions with the organizer of the blockade, but so far no tickets have been issued nor charges laid.
"People have to understand, you have to use patience," Manaigre said.
"Just walking in there and handing tickets out doesn't solve the problem with these trucks blocking the border. You've got a logistics issue involving a number of trucks. If you wanted to start towing trucks, they might not even be feasible at this point depending on how they're positioned."
The protest is part of a number of demonstrations in cities and at border crossings across Canada by people against pandemic restrictions and a federal vaccine mandate for truckers.
The protesters began blockading the border crossing around midnight.
Traffic is being re-routed through the border crossing at Gretna, where commercial truck drivers are not being made to redo their customs paperwork.
'It's costing me a lot of money'
When Cory Tarrant arrived at the border around 7 a.m. Thursday, he said there were about 30 other trucks trying to get across.
Tarrant, who owns a trucking company in Dauphin, said he loses about $2,000 every day the border remains closed.
"It's costing me a lot of money. The more I sit here, the more I don't get to make. I'm burning fuel sitting here … It's not helping me out by any means."
He told the CBC he eventually crossed the border into the United States at Gretna Thursday evening.
CBC News has been in contact with organizers of the blockade, but they declined a formal interview. They told the CBC they were advising truck drivers of alternative border crossings to avoid major disruption.
Police are trying to get a sense of what the protesters want, Manaigre said.
"The idea now is to keep that dialogue open and trying to determine how long this is going to last, and hopefully we can get this cleared up quickly."
While police have not moved to clear the protesters, Manaigre said they were told that officers would not tolerate obstructing medical vehicles.
Trucking industry organizations have spoken against the protests, and say about nine in 10 cross-border truckers are vaccinated.
The federal vaccine mandate has caused problems for Manitoba businesses by creating a labour shortage, but the blockade only makes things worse, said Ron Koslowsky, president of the Manitoba branch of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.
"Our long-term reputation, as being a good supplier to our customers in the U.S., in particular … is going to be tarnished. And there's enough problems at the border already," said Koslowsky in an interview with CBC News.
About 80 per cent of Manitoba exports to the U.S. and Mexico are transported by truckers, according to a news release from the organization.
'Totally blocked': duty free shop owner
Simon Resch, whose family owns and operates the duty free shop in Emerson, Man., said both northbound and southbound lanes on Highway 75 were shut down by protesters by the time he arrived at work early Thursday morning.
"There is no traffic coming through," he said. "Totally blocked."
He got to the shop in the morning via back roads, but the location is otherwise inaccessible to the general public due to the blockade.
Resch said Canada Border Services Agency notified him late Wednesday night of the coming protest.
Speaking with CBC earlier on Thursday morning, Manaigre said it was unclear whether the people behind the blockade also organized a protest at the border a few weeks ago. That protest left some lanes of traffic open, but the one on Thursday entirely blocks traffic, Manaigre said.
Last week, protesters on Highway 3 in Manitoba blocked a Morden man who was taking his 82-year-old sister to the emergency room at Boundary Trails Health Centre between Winkler and Morden.
Their drive to the hospital, which would normally take a few minutes, took an hour and 15 minutes.
On Wednesday, RCMP released a statement calling the slow-moving convoy "completely and utterly unacceptable."
This situation is completely & utterly unacceptable & it cannot be repeated. The Manitoba RCMP will continue to closely monitor these demonstrations and will not tolerate any blocking of roads or highways that lead to hospitals.—@rcmpmb
Manitoba politicians react
At a news conference on Thursday, Manitoba Justice Minister called on the federal government to "lower the temperature," saying some of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's comments about unvaccinated people were "unnecessarily divisive."
"I am concerned that this [blockade] is going to go on a long time and in a way that is going to have reputational damage to Manitoba and to Canada —that's going to have economic damage," he said.
Goertzen spoke at the Manitoba Legislative building, where another group of convoy protesters have blocked off streets since last Friday.
Those protesters released a statement saying they are not affiliated with the Emerson border blockade.
"We believe that peaceful protests are an important way of opening dialogue between citizens and government in order to heal division in our communities," the statement said.
Meanwhile, Portage-Lisgar member of Parliament and interim federal Conservative Leader Candice Bergen has called on protesters to take down the blockades of border crossings.
Her comments were made in the House of Commons Thursday morning, at the start of debate on a Conservative motion calling on the Liberal government for a plan for ending COVID-19 restrictions.
She said the time has come for protesters to stop the disruptive action that is causing economic harm.
Farmers, manufacturers, small businesses and families are suffering because of the border blockades, Bergen said.
She added that she doesn't believe that is what the protesters want to do, and said the protesters' anti-vaccine-mandate message has been heard.
In Manitoba, Resch has mixed feelings about the protest.
His family business has suffered under border closures, and public confusion over what testing requirements are in place at different times has discouraged some travellers from trying to cross into the U.S., he said.
He criticized the federal and provincial governments for not listening to or supporting business owners enough.
"We've lost sight of how important activity at the international border is, our trade relationships, our commercial activities, our friendships and our families," he said.
Resch is happy the protests are drawing attention to the border and how difficult it has been for businesses like his.
He also said a blockade shouldn't hold the country hostage given how devastating COVID-19 has been.
"I am sympathetic to the plight, and we certainly have our own and we also feel like we haven't been heard. I don't think this is the way to achieve our goals," he said.
"We have to understand that a co-ordinated response to the global pandemic was and continues to be necessary and causing further impediments, further stress, inflaming the existing tensions that are out there, I just don't see how that will resolve the situation."
WATCH | Frustrations mount as protesters block Canada-U.S. border crossing
With files from The Canadian Press