The Nova Scotia government’s decision to partially leave New Brunswick out of the Atlantic Bubble has led to two different blockades of sections of the Trans-Canada Highway, the most recent of which has closed the border between the two provinces.
Dozens of demonstrators set up the first protest just after 4 p.m. Tuesday, on Highway 104 near Exit 7. The blockade lasted in total for about six hours before traffic was allowed through in both directions.
It came shortly after Premier Iain Rankin announced that Nova Scotia will open to the other Atlantic provinces on June 23 — but people from New Brunswick will have isolation requirements based on their vaccination status and testing.
Rankin said it was because of New Brunswick’s decision to open their province to the rest of Canada for those who have had one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The news — announced just one day before the bubble was set to begin, despite the New Brunswick border measures being in place for nearly a week — came as a disappointment to those who had been waiting to see their friends and family across the border.
Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, Progressive Conservative MLA for Cumberland North, issued an ultimatum to Rankin Tuesday afternoon: change the restrictions by 4 p.m. or Cumberland residents will block a portion of the Trans-Canada Highway, where they’ll remain until the restrictions are lifted.
Speaking to Global News, Smith-McCrossin said while she didn’t plan the blockade, she received at least 30 messages from people asking her to join them.
“I think that the people that you’re seeing here speaks to the frustration, the anger, the pain, the suffering that people have been going through,” she told Global News.
“We’re very integrated with southern New Brunswick. We have family that live literally 10 minutes away that have not seen each other since last November.”
Smith-McCrossin accused Rankin of not making a “data-driven decision” but a “politically-driven decision.”
“The people in our area are tired of being used … as his political pawns,” she said.
Charlie Yorke, who owns a clothing boutique in Amherst, N.S., said she closed her shop early to join the protest.
Posting a Facebook Live video to her page, Yorke showed a long line of cars and trucks at a standstill on the highway, with people standing along the shoulder of the road. RCMP officers could be seen on scene.
“The traffic is blocked down for quite a few kilometres,” she said in the video.
“And this one’s for you, Iain Rankin … This is what it’s been like for us in Cumberland. We have been stuck just like these people in their vehicles.”
Smith-McCrossin to speak with premier
Smith-McCrossin initially said demonstrators were planning to keep the blockade “until the unnecessary restrictions are gone.”
“They’ve been waiting since November so they’re in it for the long-haul,” she said.
However, several hours into the blockade, tensions seemed to be boiling over as some truck drivers attempted to get through.
Just before 9 p.m., Smith-McCrossin addressed the crowd and said she would be heading to Halifax on Wednesday to ask Rankin to reconsider the restrictions on travel from New Brunswick.
That led to the blockade beginning to end.
Shortly after 10:30 p.m., the RCMP in N.S. posted to Twitter to say traffic had begun moving through again at Highway 104 at Exit 7
But at around 11:30 p.m., the RCMP announced that Highway 104 at the N.S, N.B. border was now closed in both directions due to the same protest.
“RCMP units from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are on scene. Traffic is being diverted at this time,” a statement read at 11:35 p.m. “The RCMP is asking the public to avoid unnecessary travel and to use caution driving in the area.”
The protest and blockade was still continuing as of 7 a.m. Wednesday.
Temporary interruption in service
Nova Scotia Health announced Wednesday that Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre (CRHCC) in Amherst will be providing the public with essential services only.
This is due to the protest at the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia provincial border that is preventing some health care workers who reside in New Brunswick to report to work at CRHCC.
N.S. Health said patients with appointments for ambulatory services (blood collection, diagnostic imaging and clinics) are advised to call the hospital (902-667-3361) to confirm if the appointment will go ahead.
The Emergency Department remains open to care for patients needing urgent and emergency care.
— With files from Callum Smith and Graeme Benjamin