Alberta RCMP said Monday evening they have arrested 13 people in connection to the Coutts border protest in the last 24 hours.
RCMP said earlier Monday that 11 people were initially arrested following the seizure of more than dozen long guns, hand guns, ammunition and body armour.
The RCMP said they recently became aware of a small organized group within those involved in the larger Coutts border protest. Alberta RCMP Supt. Roberta McKale said it’s believed the smaller group arrived within days of the initial group of protesters arriving at the border.
“The group was said to have a willingness to use force against the police if any attempts were made to disrupt the blockade,” RCMP said in a news release.
“This resulted in an immediate and complex investigation to determine the extent of the threat and criminal organization.”
A search warrant was executed early Monday morning on three trailers that RCMP allege were associated with the criminal organization. The following items were seized:
- 13 long guns
- multiple sets of body armour
- a machete
- a large quantity of ammunition
- high capacity magazines
A cache of weapons and ammunition seized by RCMP at the Coutts illegal blockade is on display in a photo issued on Feb. 14, 2022.”There was a heavy stash of weapons and these weapons were brought by people who had the intent on causing harm. And there are also people here who are here to protest and very likely didn’t know what was going on,” McKale said.
“The investigation continues and if there is more to be found, we will find them.”
In an update Monday afternoon, McKale said the 12th person was arrested on an area highway.
“Earlier today we had an arrest on the highway where two firearms were seized and a person was arrested,” RCMP said. “He was stopped by police while en-route back to the protest site.”
Then, around 12:45 p.m., police said a semi-truck driving north toward the Milk River RCMP check stop accelerated and drove toward police members.
“The driver swerved at the last moment and hit some traffic cones which were on the roadway,” a release said.
The driver was arrested close to the scene for Criminal Code offences, RCMP said. This was the 13th person arrested in connection with the protests at the border crossing.
McKale said charges have not yet been sworn, but added RCMP are investigating several different charges, including conspiracy to attempt to commit murder.
“A threat was against our members in general,” McKale said when asked about the nature of the charge. “It came to a point where, for the safety of our members and for the safety of the public, we certainly had to act and act quickly.
“This was a very complex, layered investigation, and some people might ask why it took so long. These investigations aren’t necessarily easy. We have a team of people that are dedicated to investigate them and it took to the point where we knew what was about to happen or inevitable to happen and we acted as soon as we could.”
In an unrelated news conference Monday morning, Premier Jason Kenney addressed what he called the “urgent developments” at the border.
Kenney said he was told “thousands of rounds” of ammunition were seized by the RCMP.
“This underscores the severity of what has been happening,” the premier said.
“To those who have been impatient about enforcement, I ask them to understand that this investigation has been ongoing over the past week and the RCMP, obviously, did not want to escalate the situation that could provoke potential violence until they had a tactical plan in place at the appropriate time to take enforcement action and to seize these weapons.”
Kenney said the government has procured “all of the necessary heavy equipment” and service to operate that equipment, to assist RCMP in removing vehicles that are blocking the highway.
“Broader enforcement measures will commence, and of course the government of Alberta will be there to support that every step of the way,” Kenney said.
The RCMP said it is also searching for a suspect after an incident at the blockade Sunday night. At about 8 p.m., police said a large farm tractor and a semi-truck attempted to ram a police vehicle. The officer in the vehicle was able to reposition and avoid the collision.
Police followed the suspects to an area where protesters were gathered. The driver of the tractor was identified and police are working to locate him so he can be taken into custody. The tractor and semi were both seized by the RCMP.
The RCMP said this is an example of “the militant mindset” of a small group of the protesters.
McKale said the RCMP will continue to focus on getting the highway and the border crossing open.
“Our opinion is that any sort of protest that continues after this point, the government of Alberta has provided us equipment that we’re going to use to remove people,” she said.
“The best way to get the vehicles off the road is to have people take them off themselves and drive away, and if we have to come back and charge people, we will… the border needs to open.”
On Saturday, the Canada Border Services Agency said services at the busy crossing were suspended, and the status was the same on Sunday.
Protesters have been set up at the southern Alberta border crossing for more than two weeks now, in protest of COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers and other public health restrictions.
Monday marked Day 17 of the protest at the Coutts border crossing.
Kenney had the following message Monday to those who continue to participate in the illegal blockade.
“All you’ve done is to inconvenience thousands and thousands of hardworking truckers, who have been trying to do their job to make a living, just forcing them to drive longer distances for no point,” he said.
“You’ve sent your message. We encourage people to continue to express their views in a lawful and peaceful way, but the ongoing blockade of our borders and our highways at Coutts will no longer be tolerated.
“This should send a message to the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other sympathizers who have been in and around the border area: time to go home. Right now.”
The Alberta NDP issued a news release Monday following the police seizure, saying the UCP government must take all necessary steps to have the blockade cleared as quickly and as safely as possible.
“The UCP has refused to go to court to seek an injunction to disperse the blockade, and refused to exercise its authority over commercial vehicle licences,” read a statement from NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir.
Read more: Alberta NDP calls on UCP to suspend commercial operators licences as Coutts protest enters 13th day
“The UCP’s failure threatens jobs and disrupts families. Now we have found out that it also poses a serious threat to the safety of Albertans.”
Government of Canada invokes Emergencies Act
On Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act to bring an end to blockades he says are illegal and not about peaceful protest.
Trudeau says the act will be used to protect critical infrastructure such as borders and airports from the blockades, and is creating time-limited powers that do not already exist.
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Before the act was invoked, Kenney said he told the prime minister Monday morning that he does not believe the act is necessary from an Alberta standpoint.
“We have all of the necessary statutory powers and operational capacity for enforcement now that the RCMP has resolved the militant cell, which could potentially have resulted in violence,” Kenney said.
The premier said the Alberta Defence of Critical Infrastructure Act gives the province similar sanctions to the court injunction obtained by Ontario last week to deal with the situation at the Ambassador Bridge.
“We have the legal powers that we need. We have the operation resources that we need to enforce. And I think at this point, for the federal government to reach in over top of us without offering anything in particular, would frankly be unhelpful,” Kenney said.
“We need to find ways to effectively enforce without escalating the situation.”
Kenney added that if the federal government chose to invoke the act, he would respect the decision. In a separate news conference after the act was invoked, Kenney maintained that Alberta has the “legal tools and the operational resources we need to ensure law and order.”
“I know the blockade at Coutts has been frustrating (and) has gone on for too long, but today we were able to reveal why there’s been a relatively light touch in enforcement for much of that period, due to the investigation that was undertaken regarding this potentially violent cell and the RCMP’s need to prepare its tactical operation to remove that potential violent threat before they could proceed with more conventional enforcement against the blockade,” he said.
“Police can now move, and intend to move, to enforcement action.”
The premier said he told the prime minister Monday morning that it’s a very sensitive time, and any measures that could further inflame tensions could be counterproductive in Alberta.
“I am concerned about what the implications of this are, the precedent that it might set,” Kenney said.
This is the first time the Emergencies Act has been invoked since it came into force in 1988.