The RCMP say removal of trucks and other vehicles from a protest in southern Alberta against pandemic restrictions is being hampered by towing companies that don’t want to help.
“Moving (massive) vehicles like these require special equipment and operators,” RCMP deputy commissioner Curtis Zablocki said Tuesday.
“Unfortunately (the towing companies contacted said) they were unwilling to become involved when it was implied that helping law enforcement with removal would likely damage their livelihoods into the future.”
Police facing a convoy of truck drivers and other supporters in Ottawa have reported similar reluctance from tow operators.
Zablocki said the protest snarling traffic at the Coutts border crossing is illegal, but the goal, for now, is to end it peacefully while keeping traffic and goods flowing as much as possible.
But Zablocki added: “We are investigating. There will be charges. And this does not end when the road is clear.”
The blockade at the Coutts border crossing began Jan. 29. Protesters in trucks, tractors and other vehicles tied up traffic in both directions and at times stopped it altogether. They are demanding an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border truck drivers as well as to other public health measures.
Demonstrators in Alberta and other Canadian cities have come out in sympathy with the original trucker convoy in Ottawa and, in recent days, set up at the crucial border crossing to Detroit at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said he sympathizes with protesters but has condemned the illegal blockade.
RCMP in charge
Sonya Savage, acting justice minister, said the government is letting the RCMP handle the impasse, but noted the province has the power to pursue civil options, including an injunction and forfeiture.
“Property that is involved in the commission of a crime can be seized and forfeited to the Crown,” said Savage.
“Those are pretty expensive vehicles that are on the side of the road – tractors and other equipment – that could be seized and forfeited.”
Irfan Sabir, justice critic for the Opposition NDP, said Kenney’s United Conservative government needs to take action.
“The UCP still hasn’t applied to the courts for an injunction to clear the blockade,” said Sabir.
“Savage describes the situation as unlawful and intolerable, but refuses to take even this basic step to give the law enforcement all the legal resources they need.
“It’s clear the UCP is simply unwilling to uphold the rule of law if it damages Jason Kenney’s chance of surviving his leadership review.”
Kenney is facing low poll numbers, as well as a split in his caucus and party over the health restrictions, as he heads into a mandatory leadership review in April.
The blockade has stranded travellers and cross-border truckers for days, compromised millions of dollars in trade and impeded access to basic goods and medical services for area residents.
The situation has changed daily and sometimes hourly.
Last week, protesters agreed to open a single lane in each direction so that truckers could haul their loads across the border, but blocked all access Monday night before one lane was reopened early Tuesday.