Alberta border protest not ending soon, RCMP says

by Bill Graveland THE CANADIAN PRESS

An RCMP spokesman says there’s no way to predict when the protest at Alberta’s main border crossing will end but he understands the public’s growing frustration as it drags on.

Demonstrators began parking their trucks and other vehicles last Saturday near the crossing at Coutts, Alta., in solidarity with similar events in Ottawa and other locations to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and broader public health measures.

The impasse 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.

An agreement with the protesters opened up a single lane in both directions on Highway 4 and truckers hauling cargo were finally able to cross the border into the U.S.

Coutts Mayor Jim Willett has called for the protest to end and says it has cut off village residents from medical services.

Shippers speaking up

Likewise, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) is calling for the government to bring an immediate end to the trucker blockade at the Canada-U.S. border crossing, saying it is affecting about $44 million in trade between Canada and the U.S. every day.

CME estimates that about $15.9 billion a year in two-way trade goes through this single crossing every year with almost as many goods being exported as imported. Now, the snarled traffic and bottlenecks are further disrupting the supply chain and are being felt by industries including manufacturing, oil and gas, agriculture, forestry, and retail.

“We were already in a supply chain crisis brought on by floods and pandemic related shortages, but this blockade is making a bad situation worse,” said David MacLean, vice-president of CME’s Alberta and Saskatchewan division. “We need this situation to end so we can keep manufacturers working.”

MacLean said that costs and delays increase every additional day the blockade is in place. Even if the blockade is lifted today, it could take as long as a week or two to clear the backlogs, further putting manufacturers on the back foot and affecting the supply chain.

“Manufacturers use the Coutts border crossing to export their products to the U.S. and beyond and to import critical business inputs,” said MacLean. “This crossing is a critical piece of transportation infrastructure not only for Alberta but the entire country.”

Frustrations

RCMP Cpl. Curtis Peters said he understands why people are upset since it has been nearly a week.

“We hear their frustrations. I understand that,” Peters said Thursday.

“I’ve spoken several times about how this has affected the town of Coutts and the town of Sweetgrass (Montana). We continue working toward bringing this to an end.”

Peters said he doesn’t know what is going to happen next in the dispute because every single incident is different, nor can he say if police intend to take action to deal with what he calls an “unlawful protest.”

“I don’t have a line in the sand. This is a constant state of evolving evaluation right? This changes minute by minute, hour by hour,” he said.

“The one thing that does stay consistent throughout is the constant dialogue that we’re having.”


Inside Logistics editor Emily Atkins contributed files to this story.