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Movement at Coutts border on 5th day of blockade, one lane open in each direction

There has been a breakthrough to resolve the impasse at a protest blockade at the United States border in southern Alberta.

Chad Williamson, a lawyer representing truckers blocking access to the border crossing at Coutts, Alta., said Wednesday afternoon they have spoken with Mounties and agreed to open some blocked lanes.

Trucks and other vehicles began clearing two lanes early Wednesday afternoon — one going north and one going south — and about an hour or so later, Global News spotted some semis moving south toward the border. Protesters remained in the area, however.

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“The truckers finally feel like their message has been heard,” Williamson said Wednesday.

“In a tremendous show of good faith, they are reopening one lane each way to provide unimpeded access through the town of Coutts and across the border in both ways.

“That doesn’t mean the protest is over, but it signals what we hope to be ongoing cordial efforts to address the concerns of the people who have been involved in the movement down here in Coutts.”

Demonstrators began parking their vehicles and blocked the highway on Saturday in solidarity with similar events in Ottawa and countrywide — to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and broader public health measures.

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The tie-up has stranded travellers and cross-border truckers for days, compromising millions of dollars in trade and impeding access to basic goods and medical services for area residents.

Police tried to peacefully break up the demonstration Tuesday, only to see others breach a nearby police barricade and join the blockade.

“Obviously, enforcement is not the way that anyone wanted this to go,” Williamson said.

RCMP said Wednesday opening a lane each way “allows for area residents to have freedom of movement, school bussing that was impacted to be reinstated, emergency services to provide full services, border access and the flow of goods and services to resume.”

“Since the onset of the blockade, the Alberta RCMP has been actively engaging with participants of the blockade to reopen lanes of traffic,” Mounties said in a news release.

“The Alberta RCMP remain on scene, and our efforts continue to be focused on fully reopening services.”

More officers were called in to help with the illegal blockade, according to RCMP, as the protest entered its fifth day Wednesday. ​

About 40 vehicles were jamming up the southbound lane near Coutts and another 60 or so tied up the northbound lane.

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Click to play video: 'Security expert weighs in on Coutts border blockade'
Security expert weighs in on Coutts border blockade

RCMP confirmed to Global News they were aware of “sympathetic blockades” and other protests taking place across the province on Wednesday.

It includes a potential blockade on Highway 1 to “gridlock the Trans Canada Highway between Banff and Canmore,” according to the organizers’ Facebook post.

Mounties were prepared to make arrests Tuesday at the border crossing but backed off when there were safety concerns.

Cpl. Curtis Peters said some vehicles left peacefully Tuesday but others — including tractors — sped through police roadblocks to join the blockade.

Police had beefed up that barricade: there were 20 police cruisers lined up fender to fender across both lanes and the median, accompanied by a similar number of uniformed officers.

Click to play video: 'Alberta Premier Jason Kenney addresses Coutts trucker border standoff, says Mounties assaulted'
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney addresses Coutts trucker border standoff, says Mounties assaulted

RCMP said Tuesday there also was a head-on crash and a person involved then assaulted another person.

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Peters added some protesters have harassed the local mayor and his wife by showing up at their home and taking photos through their windows.

He said the behaviour is not very Canadian.

“The fight is not with the mayor and his wife,” Peters told reporters Tuesday night in Coutts.

Coutts Mayor Jim Willett said the situation is “not as bad as it sounds,” though he would have waved at the protesters had he been home.

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“We get the usual online stuff that you would expect from protesters,” he said Wednesday morning to Global News Calgary.

“I did receive a couple of emails … (​rather) text messages that were borderline, but not borderline — they were threats. You have to expect that when you get a cross-section of the populace like we have here right now.

Click to play video: '‘Of course I’m worried’: Coutts mayor on 5th border protest day'
‘Of course I’m worried’: Coutts mayor on 5th border protest day

Some of those involved in the blockade are protesting mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for cross-border truck drivers as well as broader public health measures.

Under rules that came into force in January, Canadian truckers must be fully vaccinated to cross the border without a pre-arrival PCR test and to avoid quarantine, while unvaccinated U.S. truckers will be turned back.

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Premier Jason Kenney said he opposes the vaccine mandate for truckers, but protesters should find a lawful way to make their point.

Alberta Opposition Leader Rachel Notley called on Kenney to confirm that politics won’t trump the advice of public health officials, saying protesters have taken the border crossing and economy hostage.

“The people conducting this illegal action claim they are in direct contact with members of the UCP government caucus and are being offered the removal of public health orders in exchange for reopening the border,” she said Wednesday in a news release.

“The potential precedent being set here is deeply troubling and must be immediately disavowed by every elected member of the UCP government.

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“It is horrifying that any member of government caucus would think the public health of Albertans could be used as a bargaining chip to negotiate with people engaged in illegal activities. The premier must commit that this will never happen and that he will remove any of his caucus members that believe it should.”

Other blockades are also expected to take place ​throughout the week in support of the one taking place at Coutts.

— With files from Jessika Guse and Kaylen Small, Global News

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