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UPDATE: Talks get traffic moving again at snarled Alberta border crossing

Protesters feel heard, police say there are indications the open lanes may be temporary
Anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate demonstrators gather as a truck convoy blocks the highway at the busy U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alta., Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Protesters and police have made a breakthrough aimed at resolving a five-day standoff that clogged up cross-border traffic at the main United States border crossing in southern Alberta.

Chad Williamson, a lawyer representing truckers blocking access to the crossing at Coutts, Alta., said Wednesday they have spoken with RCMP and agreed to open a lane of the highway in each direction.

Demonstrators began opening the lanes in the early afternoon, tires grinding on the hard packed snow and ice of Highway 4 as they departed.

“The truckers finally feel like their message has been heard,” Williamson said in an interview.

“In a tremendous show of good faith, they are reopening one lane each way to provide unimpeded access through the town of Coutts and across the border in both ways.”

“That doesn’t mean the protest is over, but it signals what we hope to be ongoing cordial efforts to address the concerns of the people who have been involved in the movement down here in Coutts.

“Obviously enforcement is not the way that anyone wanted this to go.”

RCMP Cpl Curtis Peters said there are indications the open lanes may be temporary.

“We are just continuing to monitor and engage in dialogue with the protest group, or the reported organizers or leaders of it, in an effort to continue moving towards a complete reopening of the highway,” he said.

Demonstrators began parking their trucks and other vehicles near the crossing on Saturday in solidarity with similar events in Ottawa and countrywide to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and broader public health measures.

The impasse stranded travellers and cross-border truckers for days, compromising millions of dollars in trade and impeding access to basic goods and medical services for area residents.

On Tuesday, some demonstrators departed the blockade after Mounties announced that negotiations to end the standoff had failed and they were prepared to make arrests and tow vehicles.

That threat, however, appeared to ignite chaos. Some protesters breached a police barrier to join the blockade. Tractors also weaved by RCMP vehicles and into ditches with Canadian flags ripping in the wind.

Two vehicles crashed head on, resulting in an assault, but police reported no significant injuries.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told reporters he had been briefed that Mounties were being “swarmed” and assaulted and there had been an attempt to ram a police cruiser.

RCMP have not confirmed Kenney’s statement and the premier’s office declined to say where or how it received such information.

On Wednesday, just north of Coutts, there were 20 police cruisers lined up fender to fender across both lanes and the median, accompanied by a similar number of uniformed officers, facing a growing line up of protesters in vehicles still seeking to join the main blockade.

One of those in the lineup was Jolene, who was sitting in her vehicle with her young daughter.

She declined to give her last name.

“Right now, we are just holding the line. “We’re fighting for Canada’s freedoms,” she sai.

“I want my children to have a future. There’s getting to be so many rules where there’s just one switch flipped and all of a sudden, you don’t have choices as a Canadian anymore. That is scary to me.

“I believe all (COVID-related) mandates need to be totally removed.”

Coutts Mayor Jim Willett has called for the protest to end, saying it was cutting off village residents from medical services, mail delivery and other basic needs.

RCMP have said some protesters have gone to Willett’s home to take photos and wave through the windows.

“It’s not a big deal,” Willett said Wednesday, adding he doesn’t want the attention on him, but on the hardship faced by Coutts residents.

“The people on the highway all upset about rights and freedoms don’t realize that they have taken away a lot of those rights and freedoms from the 250 that are living here,” he said.

— Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press

RELATED: Ottawa police make two arrests following demonstration-related investigations

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