Police say efforts by protest convoy to gridlock Fredericton won’t be tolerated

Click to play video: 'Fredericton braces for COVID-19 protest convoy'
Fredericton braces for COVID-19 protest convoy
WATCH: As the City of Fredericton braces for its own COVID-19 protest convoy, the police force say they have a robust plan to deal with unlawful blockades and traffic disruptions. As part of that, truckers will be barred from entering the downtown area, unless they are required to do so for business. Nathalie Sturgeon reports – Feb 10, 2022

Fredericton’s police chief says he’s bringing in extra resources ahead of a so-called freedom convoy planned for this weekend that promises to gridlock the city in support of the trucker protests in Ottawa.

Any efforts by protesters to use trucks and other vehicles to block traffic and restrict movement around the provincial capital won’t be tolerated, police Chief Roger Brown told reporters Thursday.

“We have no issue at all with peaceful protests happening in our city,” he said. “In a matter of fact, they are welcomed. What’s not welcomed is unlawful activity, blocking of streets, barricades and the like. That’s not going to be tolerated.”

He would not reveal details of his plan, but he said he has co-ordinated a strategy with the Department of Justice and Public Safety, adding that he has extra officers and resources coming from “every policing jurisdiction in the province.”

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Read more: N.B. to further ease COVID-19 restrictions starting next week

Late Thursday, Fredericton police closed to vehicles a section of a downtown street that passes in front of the provincial legislature. Six schools in the downtown area also said they would close for the day Friday.

Parts of downtown Fredericton were blocked off Thursday evening ahead of a planned convoy protest. Nathalie Sturgeon/Global News

Messages posted on social media are encouraging people to tie up Fredericton’s downtown in a show of support for protesters who say they are against COVID-19 measures and have gridlocked Ottawa for almost two weeks. The New Brunswick protest is supposed to start at 1 p.m. on Friday and run through Saturday.

A post on the NB Freedom Support 2022 Facebook page from Wednesday calls on protesters to “come together and gridlock Fredericton while our fellow NB Freedom Fighters hold the line in Ottawa. Be prepared to sleep in your vehicle and ride this out.’

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Click to play video: 'Concerns raised over planned protest convoy in Fredericton'
Concerns raised over planned protest convoy in Fredericton

Organizers of the convoy did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Brown said he doesn’t know who the organizers are and has had no contact with them. He said he hopes his officers will be able to appeal to them for calm on Friday.

“Their plan is to come in here and gridlock the city,” Brown said. “My plan is quite simple: to eliminate that threat.”

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Fredericton Mayor Kate Rogers said the police have her full support.

“It is not all right to impede upon the health and safety of others and to block our roadways and to cause undue disruption,” she said Thursday. “I don’t want what happened in Ottawa to happen here in Fredericton.”

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Brown said an area of Fredericton’s downtown will be barricaded and police will be positioned on routes entering the city to halt any trucks headed for the protest. In addition to municipal and provincial bylaws, Brown has new rules to control the protest that were announced by Premier Blaine Higgs on Wednesday.

The premier added amendments under the province’s emergency COVID-19 order stating that anyone organizing a traffic disruption or aiding someone disrupting traffic, including by delivering food or supplies to them, can be fined up to $10,000. Under the new rules, anyone convicted of using a vehicle to block or restrict the flow of traffic will have their driving privileges suspended for one year.

In neighbouring Nova Scotia, Premier Tim Houston said people have a right to protest but they should do it peacefully without damaging the country’s economy.

Houston said he doesn’t believe his government’s move announced last week to prohibit protesters from impeding traffic or blocking any road, street or highway in the province is an overreach.

“It’s not too broad, and if anything we would look for ways to strengthen it,” he said.

Read more: New Brunswick reports 3 more COVID-19 deaths as hospitals reach 90% capacity

David Hofmann, a University of Brunswick sociologist who studies the Canadian far-right, said the “freedom convoy” events are prime opportunities for radicalization.

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The convoy movement and the far right “share a common starting line in the sense that they’re anti-establishment, they’re anti-Trudeau, they’re angry,” the associate professor said in an interview. That makes it easy, he added, for extremists to make inroads and start recruiting people.

The far right often attaches itself to other anti-establishment movements, which allows them to spread their ideas while hiding behind the stated goals of the movement, like being opposed to vaccination requirements, Hoffmann said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2022.

— With files from Keith Doucette in Halifax and Sarah Smellie in St. John’s, N.L.


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