Gurdeep Chumbur says he sympathizes with fellow truckers concerned about cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandates who have taken drastic action to make their views known.
But he was relieved Thursday when a second blockade on a highway leading to the main border crossing in southern Alberta opened to traffic and RCMP ushered through some trucks heading to the United States.
“It feels great, yeah, because I need to work. I’ve got bills to pay,” said Chumbur after getting the green light from police to proceed down Highway 4. “I understand, you guys are protesting, that’s great. Just stick to a side and let us go for it.”
Chumbur said he got stuck in Montana for four days last weekend and eventually rerouted to Roosville Border Crossing in British Columbia before heading back to Calgary for another load. He was on his way to Utah.
Demonstrators started that blockade Saturday in solidarity with similar events in Ottawa and countrywide to protest vaccine mandates and broader public health measures.
The impasse stranded travellers and cross-border truckers, compromised millions of dollars in trade and impeded access to basic goods and medical services for area residents.
On Tuesday, some demonstrators left the main blockade after Mounties announced negotiations to end the standoff had failed and they were prepared to make arrests and tow vehicles. Some trucks left but others breached a police barrier to join the protest.
“There’s no hard feelings. I’m with them. I understand, but unfortunately, I can’t stand and protest,” Chumbur said.
“I’ve got to pay bills. I’ve got a small family so that’s what it is.”
Protesters remain at the main blockade in Coutts, Alta., but agreed Wednesday to open a lane on each side of the highway.
The RCMP had warned early Thursday morning that a line of protesters in vehicles, parked just north of the Coutts crossing, had stopped vehicles from going south on Highway 4 and asked the public to avoid the area.
Hundreds of vehicles, including trucks, tractors and cars, had blocked the road in solidarity with the main blockade.
Many truckers sounded their horns as they headed down the highway.
“Our officers at the roadblock there have been in dialogue with those who were obstructing traffic and were able to facilitate southbound traffic to the border, so it’s positive at the moment,” said Cpl. Curtis Peters.
Ryan Kenney drove down Wednesday to participate in the latest protest.
“I’m here to support the protest against mandates. They need to negotiate with the truckers down at the border,” Kenney said.
“Slept here overnight and I’m planning to stay until I have to. I’ll be here for days.”
Sean Alexander of Calgary said he also decided to come down to add his support.
“We’ve got truckers down here, you got farmers down here… you’ve got oil and gas workers down here,” he said. “Eighty guys maybe slept on the highway last night. None of us are getting paid.”
Just after noon Thursday, some traffic was getting into Canada from the United States at the Coutts border crossing.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said that at about 12 p.m. Thursday, officers were able to resume processing travellers entering Canada at the Coutts border “after highway access was restored north of the border crossing.
“Travellers at Coutts should still expect significant delays due to the backlog of vehicles from the past six days that are now attempting to enter Canada,” CBSA said.
The agency has temporarily expanded hours of service at the Carway crossing (8 a.m. – 10 p.m.) and the Del Bonita crossing (9 a.m. – 10 p.m.).
In a statement Thursday morning, the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police said public safety is the priority and if demonstrations like this continue, “we will take enforcement actions at events like these, responding accordingly to the risks to public safety.”
“Albertans can feel confident that their respective police services will maintain peace and security across this province — together.”
— with files from Global News.