Manitoba demands Ottawa deal with border blockade at Emerson

Manitoba’s justice minister has called on the federal government to “lower the temperature” as protests against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions escalated with a blockade that brought cross-border trade to a halt Thursday.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/02/2022 (184 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba’s justice minister has called on the federal government to “lower the temperature” as protests against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions escalated with a blockade that brought cross-border trade to a halt Thursday.

Dozens of demonstrators in semi-trucks, farm tractors and snowplows blocked Highway 75 in Emerson. They stopped international traffic in both directions and left drivers, including truckers, stranded for hours.

It was estimated more than 40 vehicles were involved in the blockade, which began at about 12 a.m. and continued throughout the day despite a winter storm. Governments and police agencies faced pressure to break up protests in Emerson and Winnipeg.

Provincial Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said he doesn’t support demonstrations that prevent cross-border travel or create noise or traffic disruption for residents, but he welcomes the right to protest.

“I don’t think that is the right action,” he said of the blockade. “I want those lanes open.”

Kelvin Goertzen speaks to the media at the Legislative Building in Winnipeg on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Lipnowski

He stopped short of telling protesters to go home, though he acknowledged the demonstrations “can’t go on forever.”

Shifting blame and responsibility, he appeared to suggest Ottawa should engage with the so-called “freedom convoy,” which has staged nationwide demonstrations against a federal vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers.

He sidestepped a question which pointed out the Manitoba protests also take aim at his government’s restrictions, and suggested the province isn’t willing to take a lead role in ending the demonstrations.

Goertzen took aim at the federal government, saying it needs to “bring rhetoric down” to end “divisiveness” in Canada.

It is up to the federal government and RCMP to defuse the situation at the international border, he said.

“We all want to see the situation be de-escalated, but the province has to take some action to achieve that goal.” – NDP Leader Wab Kinew

NDP Leader Wab Kinew called Goertzen’s stance an abdication of leadership.

“We all want to see the situation be de-escalated, but the province has to take some action to achieve that goal,” he said.

In Winnipeg, Goertzen said the province has encouraged “dialogue” between police and protesters who’ve been camped outside the Manitoba Legislative Building for a week.

“Politicians can’t direct police operations,” the Steinbach MLA said.

Speaking in the House of Commons, interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen called on the Ottawa protest to end for the sake of the economy.

People block highway 75 and access to the Canada/US border crossing at Emerson with heavy trucks and farm equipment Thursday. The blockade was a rally against provincial and federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates and a show of support for similar protests in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Mirroring blockades at ports of entry in Coutts, Alta., and Windsor, Ont., Emerson protest organizers called for an end to the vaccine mandate for truckers and Manitoba’s public health orders.

RCMP officers attempted to speak to protest leaders as the demonstration shut down Manitoba’s main border crossing and a key North American trade route used by hundreds of trucks every day. An RCMP spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Dave Carlson, reeve of the Rural Municipality of Emerson-Franklin, said the convoy of 40 to 60 vehicles allowed livestock trucks to pass through as border stations in Emerson and Pembina, N.D., remained open. Drivers were urged to use different ports of entry.

The Canada Border Services Agency is working with law enforcement to restore normal operations, said spokeswoman Rebecca Purdy.

The blockade meant Emerson truck driver Yness Boily, who crosses the border every day, couldn’t work.

“As long as that highway is closed, I can’t work. If I can’t work, I can’t support my family.” – Yness Boily

Angered, Boily blocked the protest’s command centre because, he said, the vehicles had cut off access to a side road that leads to Emerson.

He ended his own blockade when the group agreed to move the protest to the south side of the access road, allowing southbound traffic to enter the town or turn around and head north.

Boily, who is fully vaccinated, called on the RCMP to break up the protest.

“As long as that highway is closed, I can’t work. If I can’t work, I can’t support my family,” the 42-year-old said.

Ron Koslowsky, Manitoba division vice-president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters association, said border blockades, like the one at Emerson, must end because they disrupt the crucial flow of goods. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Ron Koslowsky, Manitoba division vice-president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters association, said border blockades must end because they disrupt the crucial flow of goods.

“You have to allow for protest, but when they become a blockage to doing the work that needs to be done, that’s holding the whole country up for ransom,” he said.

Boily and Carlson urged the demonstrators to keep at least one lane open in both directions.

Carlson worried the blockade would impede emergency vehicles if they had to respond to a critical incident on either side of the boundary. Emerson’s fire department has a mutual aid agreement with Pembina, N.D.

The truckers have said they will be there for an indeterminate time. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

“Everyone has the right to protest,” he said. “I know my fire chief is concerned about being able to get to calls. I just want everyone to be safe.”

Simon Resch, co-owner of the Emerson Duty Free Shop, was forced to close his business near the border.

“When there is no business, I can only lock the doors and seal the building. We don’t know when we will be able to reopen,” he said.

Simon Resch, owner operator of the Emerson Duty Free Shop. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

The truckers have said they will be there for an indeterminate time, but Resch expects the blockade will be in place into next week.

Protesters in downtown Winnipeg said a handful of vehicles had travelled south to Emerson to take part in the border blockade.

Organizers of the Winnipeg protest said they are not involved in the border blockade.

More than 30 tractor-trailer cabs, campers and pieces of farm equipment, and a portable office trailer still occupy streets near the legislative grounds. More protesters are expected to arrive Saturday.

Following complaints from fed-up residents, city council is considered seeking a court injunction to restore “common order” around the area.

“When there is no business, I can only lock the doors and seal the building. We don’t know when we will be able to reopen.” – Simon Resch, co-owner of the Emerson Duty Free Shop

Council voted to ask the public service to recommend “significant fine increases” for “noise nuisance” offences that last more than 24 hours, as well as any offences that obstruct or impede emergency vehicles.

In a statement, protest organizers said they are complying with requests from Winnipeg police to have a “peaceful and respectful” rally.

Drivers are to limit honking to the hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and honk for two minutes at the top of every hour, said the organizers, who requested a meeting with Premier Heather Stefanson.

The premier didn’t speak to the media Thursday but issued a statement saying she had met virtually with Mayor Bowman and the two agreed to “keep the lines of communication open.”

The two leaders called on protesters near the legislature “to remember to be respectful of the rights of others to live and work downtown in peace.”

— with files from Danielle Da Silva, Kevin Rollason, Joyanne Pursaga and Dylan Robertson

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @ChrisKitching

Chris Kitching
Reporter

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

History

Updated on Thursday, February 10, 2022 12:37 PM CST: Photos changed.

Updated on Thursday, February 10, 2022 4:02 PM CST: adds quotes

Updated on Thursday, February 10, 2022 4:35 PM CST: Adds justice minister

Updated on Thursday, February 10, 2022 10:05 PM CST: Adds new photos

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