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'It feels great': Trucks heading to U.S. get through Alberta blockades

COUTTS, Alta. — Gurdeep Chumbur says he sympathizes with fellow truckers concerned about cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandates who have taken drastic action to make their views known.

COUTTS, Alta. — Gurdeep Chumbur says he sympathizes with fellow truckers concerned about cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandates who have taken drastic action to make their views known. 

But he was relieved Thursday when a second illegal blockade on a highway leading to the main border crossing in southern Alberta opened to traffic and RCMP ushered through some trucks heading to the United States. 

"It feels great, yeah, because I need to work. I've got bills to pay," said Chumbur, after getting the green light from police to proceed down Highway 4 to the crossing at Coutts, Alta.

"I understand, you guys are protesting, that's great. Just stick to a side and let us go for it." 

Chumbur said he was stuck in Montana for four days last weekend and eventually rerouted to the Roosville crossing in British Columbia before heading back to Calgary for another load. He was next on his way to Utah.

"There's no hard feelings. I'm with them. I understand, but unfortunately, I can't stand and protest," Chumbur said.

Demonstrators started the main blockade at Coutts on Saturday in solidarity with similar events in Ottawa and countrywide to protest vaccine mandates and broader public health measures. 

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

On Tuesday, some demonstrators left that main blockade after Mounties announced negotiations to end the standoff had failed and they were prepared to make arrests and tow vehicles. However, other vehicles, including tractors, breached a police barrier and joined the stoppage. 

Protesters at the blockade agreed Wednesday to open a lane on each side of the highway.

Early Thursday, the RCMP warned there was a second blockade of protesters north of Coutts, closer to the town of Milk River, and asked the public to avoid the area. 

Hundreds of vehicles, including trucks, tractors and cars, had blocked the road there in solidarity with the main blockade.

Later in the day, traffic was allowed through and many sounded horns as they headed down the highway. 

Officers stopped and checked with truckers to make sure they were making deliveries across the border and with area residents trying to get home. 

Vehicles then weaved slowly through a narrow phalanx lined by protesters parked along the highway.

RCMP Cpl. Curtis Peters said the situation is anything but ideal.

"It's very slow moving and we have to be very cautious," he said.

"There has been conflicts flare up here. We've had people just trying to get through, who've had some confrontations with protesters.

"The fact that we're allowing traffic to flow through is a positive step in the right direction but it's still an unlawful protest."

More protesters arrived at the site during the day. Some tractors and SUVs parked in a ditch. Two people showed up on horses and there an impromptu stage was set up for singing and a prayer service.

Ryan Kenney said he drove down Wednesday to participate in the latest blockade. 

"Slept here overnight and I'm planning to stay until I have to. I'll be here for days," he said.

"I'm here to support the protest against mandates. They need to negotiate with the truckers down at the border."

Sean Alexander of Calgary was also part of the protest.

"We've got truckers down here, you got farmers down here … you've got oil and gas workers down here," he said. "Eighty guys maybe slept on the highway last night.

"None of us are getting paid." 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2022. 

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press