A UCP MLA is being criticized by both sides of the legislature after participating in the anti-mandate demonstration blocking a southern Alberta highway on Saturday.
Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter posted a Facebook photo of himself and his family members posing in front of semi-trucks at the Coutts border crossing protest on Saturday, drawing ire from members of the Alberta NDP and his own party.
The blockade along Highway 4 south of Lethbridge is part of the national anti-vaccine mandate convoy that arrived in Ottawa last week. The movement was sparked after the federal government lifted quarantine exemptions for truckers crossing into Canada from the United States on Jan. 15.
Premier Jason Kenney has since condemned the blockade, saying it violates the Alberta Traffic Safety Act and must end.
Alberta RCMP has also deemed the protest unlawful and has asked protestors to clear the area.
“It must be recognized that while everyone has a right to peaceful freedom of expression, the general public, local residents and businesses also have the right to a safe environment and freedom of movement,” said the Alberta RCMP in a Facebook post on Sunday.
During an unrelated press conference on Monday, Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer condemned Hunter’s participation in the protest.
“I want to reiterate the premier’s condemnation of the blockade at the border between Alberta and the United States. I am disappointed that Hunter made the decision to go there and participate in that illegal blockade,” said Schweitzer.
Schweitzer referenced the province’s Critical Infrastructure Defense Act, a bill that allows law enforcement to fine and arrest individuals blocking critical infrastructure such as highways.
Schweitzer worked on this bill while he was justice minister. It passed last May against the backdrop of widespread protests and blockades across the country in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the construction of the Coastal Gas Link natural gas pipeline.
The bill has been questioned in recent days as protestors continue to block the border crossing at Coutts, Alta. for a third day in a row, frustrating truckers on both sides of the border.
Read more: Coutts border blockade enters 3rd day
Schweitzer said the bill is “110 per cent” designed to deal with the blockade.
“We defer to law enforcement officials that are on the ground dealing with the situation,” said Schweitzer.
Alberta’s health minister Jason Copping echoed similar sentiments.
“I don’t agree with my colleague’s choice. Our government, quite frankly, is focused on urging those involved in the protest to desist from the blockade,” said Copping during a press conference on Monday.
The Alberta NDP is calling on Kenney to remove Hunter from the UCP caucus, along with Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland MLA Shane Getson.
Getson posted a screen capture on his Instagram account on Sunday in support of the blockade, calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to drop vaccine mandates across the country.
Getson’s statement and Hunter’s participation is dangerous and irresponsible, said the NDP in a press release.
“We recognize that the premier and the government do not direct the RCMP or the actions of police. We do not believe they should, but at the very least the premier has a great opportunity here to take action on his MLAs who are supporting that illegal action.”
“Let’s see the Premier put his money where his mouth is and take action,” said NDP Health Critic David Shepherd.
Schweitzer declined to comment when asked if Hunter should still be a part of the UCP caucus.
Hunter has since responded to the criticism, saying he travelled to the Coutts border to support the protest. He said the truckers and farmers at the protest are “at wit’s end” with the restrictions, along with most Albertans he’s talked to.
“That being said, a peaceful protest is not a blockade that stops people from moving freely and so I ask those who are blocking the Coutts border crossing to let people through,” he said in an emailed statement provided to Global News on Monday.
Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes has also vocalized his support for the protest. Barnes is an independent MLA who was expelled from the UCP caucus last May for publicly calling for Kenney’s resignation.
“These mandates and vaccine passports are dividing our society, disrupting our supply chains, harming small businesses, and having an unclear impact on preventing the spread of Covid-19,” he said in an emailed statement.