Southern Manitoba convoy slowing patients, nurses, ambulances trying to reach Boundary Trails hospital

A convoy of people protesting COVID-19 restrictions on a southern Manitoba highway has stalled traffic in the vicinity of the local hospital and caused potentially dangerous situations, some residents say.

'Very real' risk that convoy could have delayed treatment, causing serious outcome: Southern Health Region

Boundary Trails Health Centre is pictured in this file photo. The Southern Health region said two nurses and two ambulances were delayed this weekend by a convoy on Highway 3, which is the main route to the hospital. (CBC)

A convoy of people protesting COVID-19 restrictions on a southern Manitoba highway has stalled traffic in the vicinity of the local hospital and caused potentially dangerous situations, some residents say.

Late last week, Terry Titchkosky of Morden, Man., picked his 82-year-old sister up to take her to the emergency room at Boundary Trails Health Centre — the hospital between Morden and Winkler — because she was experiencing chest pains.

What's normally a drive of just a few minutes down Highway 3 to the hospital ended up taking an hour and 15 minutes, after Titchkosky got stuck behind a slow-moving tractor and big rigs that were effectively blocking both lanes of the highway, as well as the shoulder, forcing traffic to move at a crawl.

"I was basically locked in," Titchkosky said in an interview with CBC Manitoba's Information Radio on Tuesday.

The Mordenite says he honked his horn and flashed his lights to try to get through. Other cars let him pass, but he couldn't get the attention of the semi-trailers and tractor at the front to get past.

He was eventually able to get onto an exit and get to the hospital. As of Tuesday, his sister was still at the hospital, suffering from a serious infection, Titchkosky said.

Morden Mayor Brandon Burley says this isn't the first time a convoy has made accessing the hospital difficult for people in the region.

Not only has the main access road to the hospital been blocked off during the slow rolls, but people sometimes park on side roads and gravel roads that could be used as detours by people trying to get to Boundary Trails, Burley says.

"That's an extremely dangerous action, and certainly, if it's being done with that intent, it's an immoral one," he said in an interview on CBC Manitoba's Radio Noon on Tuesday.

"I don't know if or when [the convoy] is going to go again, but I think the ask, at least from us, is to do it in a more responsible manner and make sure that our community is not being hazarded."

The Southern Regional Health Authority said two nurses were late for their shifts on the weekend and two ambulances were held up in traffic for over an hour, but luckily, no patients were affected.

"However, the potential for this to have become a critical incident where someone could have suffered a severe outcome due to a delay in receiving medical treatment was very real," a spokesperson said in an email.

RCMP monitoring

Burley says there isn't much the City of Morden can do to address the issue, because the highway falls out of his council's jurisdiction.

He's been in touch with the RCMP and wants to ensure there are lanes open for emergency purposes.

Titchkosky says he also contacted RCMP, but says he was told there was nothing they could do since no laws were actually being broken.

In fact, the Highway Traffic Act does prohibit vehicles driving at such a slow speed that they disrupt traffic, but an RCMP says police try to respect the right of people to exercise their right to protest, and RCMP are working to keep the peace.

"Open communication, a reasoned and tempered approach and the proper use of police discretion guide RCMP responses to major events such as these," the spokesperson said.

RCMP received calls over the weekend with concerns about access to Boundary Trails Health Centre being blocked off, as well as safety on the roadway, according to the spokesperson.

Officers said they had a discussion with the organizers of the convoy to ensure that one lane of traffic on Highway 3 would remain open and remained on scene to ensure safety.

It may look to the public as if the police are not enforcing laws in situations like this, but that is not the case, the RCMP spokesperson said in an email.

"Police may wait for a lower-risk opportunity to arrest or ticket offenders rather than inflame a situation and endanger the public," the email said.

Regardless, Titchkosky believes the convoy should move way from the hospital.

"If they're going to protest, I think they should protest in the areas that are a little bit safer than having it at a hospital," he said.

"I think that there should be some restrictions on blocking off roads that are for hospital accessibility."

The people involved in organizing the anti-restrictions protest currently underway at the Manitoba legislature say they were not involved in the planning of the Morden-area convoy.

CBC News has not been able to reach the organizers of the southern Manitoba convoy.