Protesters block major Canada-U.S. border crossing in Manitoba

Highway 75 blocked in both directions by farm equipment, semi-trailer trucks and more

CBC News · Posted: Feb 10, 2022 

Protesters in semi-trailer trucks, farm equipment and other vehicles have blocked all highway lanes at Manitoba’s main Canada-U.S. border crossing on Thursday.

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 protesters by the time he arrived at work early in the morning.

“There is no traffic coming through,” he said. “Totally blocked.”

He got to the shop this 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.

A highway sign warns drivers about the blockade amid blowing snow and poor visibility Thursday shortly before 11 a.m. (CBC)

Trucking industry organizations have spoken against the protests and say about nine in 10 cross-border truckers are vaccinated. 

Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, an industry lobby group, has also denounced 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 U.S. and Mexico are transported by truckers, the organization said.

“Manitoba manufacturing is already struggling with labour 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.”

Neither Resch nor RCMP had an estimate of how many vehicles are in the Emerson blockade on Thursday morning.

Tractors, pickup trucks, semi-trailer trucks and other vehicles block both northbound and southbound lanes in Manitoba Thursday morning at the Canada-U.S. border. (Submitted by Simon Resch)

Establishing dialogue

RCMP Sgt. Paul Manaigre said Mounties from Winnipeg and the Morris detachment headed to Emerson Thursday morning in hopes of establishing a dialogue with protest organizers. 

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. “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.

If emergency vehicles need to get through but can’t, that could be an issue, he said.

“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.

Were such an incident to occur, it could result in fines, criminal charges or vehicles being towed, he said.

RCMP issued tickets to 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 Centre between Winkler and Morden.

Their drive to the hospital, which would normally take a few minutes, took an hour and 15 minutes, Manaigre said.

“You can imagine the fear,” Manaigre said. 

“We understand you want to demonstrate, but you have to allow certain people to get through.”

Tories call for end to border blockades 

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 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.

Mixed feelings

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 travellers from trying to cross into the U.S., 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.

Vehicles block northbound lanes on Highway 75 Thursday morning. (Submitted)

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.”

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