Protesters in semi-trailer trucks, farm equipment and other vehicles who have blocked all highway lanes at Manitoba’s main Canada-US border crossing since Thursday morning have begun letting livestock and medical vehicles through.
About 50 vehicles, which also include snowplows and construction machinery, have blocked off both northbound and southbound spokesperson lanes on Highway 75, RCMP Sgt. Paul Manaigre told CBC News.
The police have begun discussions with the organizer of the blockade, Manaigre said in an interview with host Marjorie Dowhos on CBC Manitoba’s Radio Noon.
RCMP are “being probably pretty clear exactly what we expect and what we want,” he said.
“The idea now is to keep that dialogue open and trying to determine how long this is going to last, and hopefully we can get this cleared up quickly.”
Manaigre couldn’t say how many vehicles may be stuck on the highway, unable to get through.
So far, no emergency vehicles have needed to pass through, but Manaigre said police would act promptly if the blockaders tried to prevent access.
“We’re going to be making it very clear with the organizers that it is illegal to obstruct any access to medical services that someone needs,” he said.
So far, Manaigre was not aware of any tickets handed out.
“We’re kind of in the information-gathering stage,” he said.
“We have the ability to lay charges under the Highway Traffic Act, possibly the Criminal Code. That’s something we can definitely look at when the time comes.”
‘Totally blocked’: duty free shop owner
Simon Resch, whose family owns and operates the duty free shop in Emerson, Man., said both northbound and southbound lanes on Highway 75 were shut down by the protesters by the time he arrived at work early Thursday morning.
“There is no traffic coming through,” he said. “Totally blocked.”
He got to the shop in the morning via back roads, but the location is otherwise inaccessible to the general public due to the blockade.
Resch said Canada Border Services Agency notified him late Wednesday night of the coming protest.
The protest is part of a number of demonstrations in cities and at border crossings across Canada by people against pandemic restrictions and a federal vaccine mandate for truckers.
Trucking industry organizations have spoken against the cross protests and say about nine in 10-border truckers are vaccinated.
Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, an industry lobby group, has also deounced the protest.
“CME is urging all levels of government to work together in bringing an immediate end to the current blockades and disruptions at our country’s border crossings and key trade corridors,” the organization said in a statement on Thursday.
About 80 per cent of Manitoba exports to the US and Mexico are transported by truckers, the organization said.
“Manitoba manufacturing is already struggling with labor shortages and massive supply chain disruptions,” Ron Koslowsky, CME’s Manitoba division vice-president, said in a statement.
“These blockades continue to do a lot of damage to our sector at a time when we can least afford it.”
Speaking to CBC earlier on Thursday morning, Manaigre said Mounties from Winnipeg and the Morris detachment headed to Emerson Thursday morning.
RCMP do not want to take a heavy-handed approach and risk escalating the situation, he said.
“That’s the critical piece is getting that beginning conversation going,” Manaigre told Information Radio host Marcy Markusa on Thursday morning. “You want to start off on the right foot and hopefully progress is made.”
He said it was unclear whether the people behind the blockade also organized a protest at the border a few weeks ago. That protest left some lanes of traffic open, but the one on Thursday entirely blocks traffic, Manaigre said.
RCMP issued tickets to the protesters blocking the highway at the Coutts, Alta., border crossing on Wednesday.
Recently, protesters on Highway 3 in Manitoba blocked a Morden man who was taking his 82-year-old sister to the emergency room at Boundary Trails Health Center between Winkler and Morden.
Their drive to the hospital, which would normally take a few minutes, took an hour and 15 minutes, Manaigre said in his Information Radio interview.
“You can imagine the fear,” he said.
“We understand you want to demonstrate, but you have to allow certain people to get through.”
This situation is completely & utterly unacceptable & it cannot be repeated. The Manitoba RCMP will continue to closely monitor these demonstrations and will not tolerate any blocking of roads or highways that lead to hospitals.
Meanwhile, Portage-Lisgar member of Parliament and interim federal Conservative Leader Candice Bergen has called on protesters to take down the blockades of border crossings.
Her comments were made in the House of Commons Thursday morning, at the start of debate on a Conservative motion calling on the Liberal government for a plan for ending COVID-19 restrictions.
She said the time has come for the protesters to stop the disruptive action that is causing economic harm.
Farmers, manufacturers, small businesses and families are suffering because of the border blockades, Bergen said.
She added that she doesn’t believe that is what the protesters want to do, and said the protesters’ anti-vaccine-mandate message has been heard.
In Manitoba, Resch has mixed feelings about the protest.
His family business has suffered under border closures, and public confusion over what testing requirements are in place at different times has discouraged some travelers from trying to cross into the US, he said.
He criticized the federal and provincial governments for not listening to or supporting business owners enough.
“We’ve lost sight of how important activity at the international border is, our trade relationships, our commercial activities, our friendships and our families,” he said.
Resch is happy the protests are drawing attention to the border and how difficult it has been for businesses like his.
He also said a blockade shouldn’t hold the country hostage given how devastating COVID-19 has been.
“I am sympathetic to the plight, and we certainly have our own and we also feel like we haven’t been heard. I don’t think this is the way to achieve our goals,” he said.
“We have to understand that a co-ordinated response to the global pandemic was and continues to be necessary and causing further impediments, further stress, inflaming the existing tensions that are out there, I just don’t see how that will resolve the situation .”