Emergencies Act Inquiry: Key Moments from Coutts’ Testimony


Over the past two days, the Public Order Emergency Commission examining the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act has heard testimony about the protest in Coutts, Alberta.

Focusing on the blockade of a southern Alberta highway leading to a busy entry point between Canada and the United States, the commission heard from Marco Van Huigenbos, a councilor and protester from Fort Macleod who was charged with mischief over $5,000 in connection with the Coutts border blockade.

Coutts Mayor Jim Willett also gave evidence, explaining concerns he had expressed at the time of the protests about the participation of an « extreme » element.

According to the commission’s chronology of events, the Alberta blockade in support of the « Freedom Convoy » protests in Ottawa began on January 29 when a convoy of approximately 1,000 vehicles drove to the main US border crossing in province and halted two-way traffic on the Alberta border. Highway 4.

Between February 3 and February 7, traffic passed through the border crossing, although it was slow and with interruptions. On February 8, protesters re-established a full blockade and as a result, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) suspended service at the port of entry.

On February 14, the day the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act, the RCMP seized weapons from the protest site and charged a number of protesters with charges including conspiracy to commit murder. The blockade was then fully lifted the following day.

From texts sent by the mayor accusing then-Premier of Alberta Jason Kenney « of not knowing that the province is being held hostage by domestic terrorists, » to protesters wanting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to come talk to them, here are the key takeaways from Coutts-focused testimony.


During Van Huigenbos’ testimony, he was asked about a January 30 CBSA email noting how the situation was « worsening » in Coutts and stating that there were « rumors that another 800 protesters would come with heavy equipment because they want Trudeau there. »

Asked if he agreed that there were people involved in the Alberta blockade who were looking to speak directly to the Premier, Van Huigenbos replied: « I could see it was something something that people wanted. Trudeau is not popular in Alberta. »

Throughout the protests, Trudeau resisted any suggestion that he meet with those demonstrating.

According to an RCMP institutional report filed into evidence this week, just prior to the protests, the RCMP updated its departmental security protection plans “in part due to concerns stemming from public health anti-order rhetoric and demonstrations at the residences of civil servants”.

The commission also heard about how Conservative MP Glen Motz—who, when he was in Ottawa expressed their support for the protests – had also returned to his home province to speak with protesters.

According to Van Huigenbos’ testimony, he met Motz at a side event a few miles north of Coutts Pass near Milk River where the couple discussed federal warrants.

Marco Van Huigenbos appears before the Public Order Emergency Commission, Tuesday, November 8, 2022 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Van Huigenbos also said the message Motz and the mayor were pushing was to « clear the road enough » not to break the law, then « protest as much as you want. »

In texts to then Alberta Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney, Willett suggested that how Motz came to engage would have been the way to go if the province had planned to send someone ‘a.

“Discreet, out of the blue, meet with the RCMP, meet with Marco or whoever is responsible and communicate,” Willett said.


Van Huigenbos testified that the decision was made to end the blockade after Alberta RCMP officers moved in, made arrests and seized several weapons and pieces of body armor early in the morning of the February 14th.

He said that once he learned of the existence of the guns, it became clear that the protesters’ goal he believed was to force the lifting of the COVID-19 warrants by creating « an inconvenience to the border » was no longer possible.

« Our message had been lost. »

« And, obviously, it was unfortunate. It wasn’t us. It was obviously individuals who were among us who had differences, and as I said, that remains to be proven. I can’t tell. talk, but it is claimed that they have different points of view than us,” Van Huigenbos continued.

« I remember saying ‘Google Coutts’ and all the posts, all the videos, all the positivity around what we were doing, in my opinion, was lost. It was guns, guns , guns. And… not to be associated with that view or even that view… we managed to leave,” he later added.


A memo filed in evidence Wednesday by the mayor of Coutts showed how he sought to equip the village’s 245 residents for the « influx » of people into their community. Here are the safety tips he suggested:

  • Until the end of this occupation, pretend you live in a big city.
  • Make sure all your doors and windows are locked, especially if you are leaving the house for a period of time.
  • Lock your vehicles, do not leave any valuables visible in the vehicle and above all do not leave any keys in the vehicle. If possible, park on the street.
  • Make sure all your outbuildings, sheds, garages, etc. are securely locked.
  • Check your yard lights, porch lights, and alarm systems if you have them, and use them.
  • Do not open your door to strangers.
  • Make sure your children are under adult supervision.
  • Do not confront the protesters.

Jim Willett, Mayor of Coutts, Alta., appears before the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

When asked about this during his testimony, Willett said the village generally had a « close to zero crime rate ».

« It’s a typical small Alberta town, » he said. « If there’s a stranger in town, the password. »

During his testimony, Willett was emotional as he spoke of the toll the blockade has taken on his community, telling the commission that some residents receiving home care could not be seen during the blockades and some neighbors are still not on good terms because of their opposing views on the protests.


In two separate text conversations, the mayor made it clear he believed the protesters were « domestic terrorists. »

In a Feb. 12 exchange with a Canadian Press reporter who was entered into evidence, Willett suggested to the reporter that he should « find someone in a protected position who will call these guys what they are, terrorists. national ».

« It won’t be me, » he continued. « They’re right outside my window. I’d literally be hanged. » He then noted that: « A more extreme element has set in » and that he was « concerned about the end result ». It was not until two days later that the weapons were seized and charges of conspiracy to commit murder were brought against four participants in the blockade.

In the other text conversation with Sawhney a few hours later the same day, according to the timestamps associated with the messages, Willett wrote: « If you have the chance, could you find out why the Prime Minister is unaware that the province is taken Hostage by terrorists And why didn’t he label him that My rant of the day.

This diatribe received no response from the Alberta minister. Their conversation resumed on February 14 when Sawhney asked the mayor, « Are you okay? »

The next day, as their conversation continued, Willett offered, « I’m sure there will be high-level discussions about how to prevent this from happening again. »


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