Note to readers: Read latest developments here as police have moved in on protesters.
Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin said he wouldn’t change the province’s border measures after a group of people set up a blockade at the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border to protest modified self-isolation requirements.
Cars and trucks spent all of Wednesday lined up along the Trans-Canada Highway on both sides of the border, preventing the transport of goods and services and keeping some health-care workers who lived in New Brunswick and worked in Nova Scotia from getting in.
The RCMP from both provinces were advising people to stay away.
“The RCMP respects the Charter right of all Canadians to assemble peacefully. However, under S.423(1)(g) of the Criminal Code, blockading a highway is a criminal offence,” the Nova Scotia RCMP said in a release late Wednesday afternoon.
“Our members are trying to balance respecting the protestors’ rights with enforcing the law, and they are continuing to engage protestors in meaningful dialogue in the hopes of achieving a peaceful resolution.”
The Atlantic Bubble was supposed to kick off on Wednesday, but Rankin announced Tuesday afternoon that people coming 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, without the need to self-isolate.
During a media availability Wednesday, Rankin told reporters the province needs more time to get more people fully vaccinated.
“We’re asking for a week. I would ask that the protesters think of all Nova Scotians’ best interest in keeping people safe. We need a lot more second doses,” he said. “I think it’s a reasonable plan to just wait for that week.”
He said he expects New Brunswick to be “back in the bubble” on June 30. Rankin was to meet with the other Atlantic premiers on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the border situation.
Anger erupted after Rankin’s announcement on Tuesday, especially in the northern Nova Scotian communities that sit on the border. Tuesday afternoon and evening, demonstrators blocked off part of Highway 104 near Exit 7 in protest of the new rules.
That blockade was promoted by Progressive Conservative MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, who posted a video to Facebook that afternoon threatening the premier with a blockade if he didn’t adjust the measures.
While that blockade was shut down that evening, demonstrators since established themselves at the border itself, in the Amherst area.
Some protesters expressed anti-vaccination stances, with a group attempting to block a truck which they believed to be carrying COVID-19 vaccines. The driver said it was carrying blood.
“No vax trucks past this point!” one woman could be heard yelling in a video on Wednesday.
Protesters also blocked off the parking lot for the community vaccine clinic in Cumberland County, though it remained open and no appointments were cancelled.
By 7 p.m., the size of the protest had grown to about 150 people, with no signs of ending.
A brief scuffle also ensued between protesters after some agreed to let through a truck driver who had been there since Tuesday night.
After one protestor took exception and began shouting at the driver, a fight broke out with another protester.
Police broke them up and and the two later shook hands and made up. Five 18-wheelers were eventually allowed through.
A trucker coming from Moncton hadn’t been able to cross the border of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick since he arrived there at 2 a.m. Wednesday.
Jason Gauvin was heading to Port Hawkesbury, N.S., but got stuck at the border.
“I understand where the the families are coming from. They’re missing their loved ones and all that…But in the long run, they are still affecting all of us out here that can’t go anywhere…It’s not helping any of us,” said Gauvin.
Wednesday afternoon, the Salvation Army prepared more than 700 meals for hungry truckers and a local Sobeys employee distributed free water outside a mall in Amherst, where dozens of the stranded trucks were parked.
‘The blockade has to end now’: PC leader
During a media availability Wednesday afternoon, the leader of the official Opposition called on protesters to stop the blockade.
“The blockade has to end now. Goods and services have to flow in this province,” said Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston.
“To everyone that’s protesting, your point has been made. Your frustrations are very clear. The last-minute changes that the premier made were unfair to you, but blocking goods and services moving … it’s not OK.”
He said the pandemic has been particularly difficult on people in the border communities, who typically travel between the two provinces for a variety of reasons, but said the blockade wasn’t the answer.
Houston said he only found out about Tuesday’s protest — which was promoted by Smith-McCrossin, a member of his caucus — after it already began. While he said he doesn’t support the blockade, he supported Smith-McCrossin in “standing up for her constituents.”
He also noted that Smith-McCrossin ended up asking people to leave and take down the blockade Tuesday night.
Houston said he would “debrief” the situation with Smith-McCrossin and the caucus.
Asked Wednesday morning if she felt any responsibility for the impact the protest is having on health-care workers being able to enter the province, Smith-McCrossin deflected to Rankin.
“It’s the premier’s responsibility,” she said in an interview outside Rankin’s office, where she was trying to get a meeting.
“He’s impacting people’s lives unnecessarily, and people’s voices want to be heard, and they are being heard.”
In Tweet, Rankin described Smith-McCrossin’s actions as “reckless” and asked that she tell the protesters to stand down.
“I think that they need to recognize the irony in blocking a border that they want open,” he said in a video posted to his Twitter account.
“I would ask all politicians to support public health and support the safety of Nova Scotians for one week. Then we’re in a much different place, we’ll have thousands more people with their second dose (of the COVID-19 vaccine.)”
Rankin later said the health minister has reached out to Smith-McCrossin.
Meanwhile, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said Wednesday that he was “disappointed” with the blockade and called for an end to the protest.
“This isn’t a time to lose control or lose patience or cause disruption to friends and neighbours,” he said during a news briefing.
— With files from Graeme Benjamin