Alberta official says emergency law may have had a chilling effect in Coutts, but was unnecessary


An Alberta official who oversees the public safety portfolio says the federal government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act may have had a chilling effect on protesters near the Coutts border crossing, but said that he didn’t think it was necessary.

Marlin Degrand, assistant deputy minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services, testifies Thursday before the Emergencies Act inquiry into the blockade in a southern Alberta village.

Between January 29 and February 14, protesters against COVID-19 restrictions used large trucks and other vehicles to block commercial traffic to and from the United States at the crossing near Coutts, Alberta .

Around dawn on February 14, hours before the federal government announced it was putting in place emergency powers, the RCMP executed search warrants in Coutts, arresting more than a dozen protesters and seizing a cache of weapons, body armor and ammunition.

Degrand sat down for an interview with attorneys from the Public Order Emergency Commission in August. A summary of that conversation was made public on Thursday.

« While Mr. Degrand acknowledges that the Emergencies Act may have had a chilling effect on protesters, the Alberta government’s position was that the Emergencies Act was not necessary because the Coutts border blockade was resolving before it was invoked, » the interview summary said.

« Alberta opposed his invocation on this basis. »

Degrand told the commission that the authorities in the province were sufficient and proved to be sufficient.

Supporters watch as COVID-19 vaccine mandate protesters leave in a convoy of trucks after blocking the highway at the busy U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alberta on February 15, 2022. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

He also said the province is concerned that the introduction of never-before-used legislation will further inflame protesters.

Fort McLeod County Marco Van Huigenbos, one of the movement’s spokespersons, said the remaining protesters left after weapons were found.

Four men arrested in the Coutts raid — Jerry Morin, Chris Lysak, Chris Carbert and Anthony Olienick — are charged with the most serious charge to emerge from the protests: conspiracy to murder RCMP officers.

“To me it became very clear that every goal we were looking to achieve was no longer possible and our message had been lost,” Van Huigenbos told the commission earlier this week.

Tow truck securing problem

Degrand’s testimony touched on an issue the commission has heard many times before: securing tow trucks.

The Alberta bureaucrat said the RCMP informed him that tow truck drivers were reluctant to help police clear the blockade.

« Some operators have indicated to the RCMP that they are not being paid to assist law enforcement, » Degrand’s interview summary said.

After a series of denials, Degrand said the province made a request to the federal government and inquired about the possibility of obtaining machinery from the Canadian Armed Forces. He testified that the provincial government felt that Ottawa was reluctant to offer military equipment.

Ultimately, Degrand said the province was finally able to secure a number of tow trucks for the RCMP around Feb. 13.

The commission is reviewing the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act and the circumstances that led to that decision.

Commissioner Paul Rouleau will continue to hear from witnesses, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, until November 25.


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