The border protests may turn out to be the last big operation conducted by Surrey RCMP. The way it was carried out was smooth, and a stark contrast to police responses to protests in other parts of the country.
The wave of protests began with an “On to Ottawa” convoy led by those unhappy with vaccine mandates and the Justin Trudeau government. After many set up camp in downtown Ottawa almost a month ago, other sympathizers began closing access to border crossings in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, notably the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor. That is the busiest crossing between Canada and the U.S. and the most vital trade corridor between the two countries.
There were a few protesters on the side of the road at the Pacific Highway crossing during the week of Feb. 7, but they were not disrupting traffic. All that changed on Saturday, Feb. 12, when a convoy which started in Chilliwack headed for the border. The Pacific Highway crossing is the most important Canada-U.S. trade corridor in Western Canada.
The cavalcade of trucks, cars and supporters caused chaos along 176 Street and made it impossible for truckers to cross the border there for much of the weekend. However, Surrey RCMP ignored the precedent of inaction set by Ottawa Police, and quickly closed access points to the area.
By Sunday, it was very difficult to get to the Pacific Highway border. However, Douglas (at the Peace Arch) remained open for car traffic, and trucks were able to go to the border crossings in Langley and Abbotsford.
There was none of the chaos that ensued at Coutts, Alberta; Emerson, Manitoba; and Sarnia and Windsor in Ontario.
The border crossing eventually was able to reopen and Surrey RCMP stayed on scene afterwards, setting up a checkpoint to ensure that only people with legitimate reasons to travel to or across the border could get through. There were also several arrests.
This simple measure ensured that the protest could only fizzle. It’s too bad Ottawa Police didn’t think of roadblocks – often employed by police on many occasions.
Had police in other parts of the country done similar things, there would have been no need for Trudeau to pull out the Emergencies Act – never before used. The protests would just be a memory.
The whole sorry spectacle illustrates a couple of very important points. First, many people are very tired of COVID-19 restrictions, many of which have been eased substantially since the protests began. However, most would not take part in a protest and the actions of protesters, particularly in Ottawa and Coutts, have disgusted millions of people.
The other important point to remember is that politicians at all levels have been absolutely missing in action – not only in dealing with the protests very belatedly, but also in their messaging throughout the whole COVID-19 pandemic. Keep in mind that just a few weeks ago, Quebec Premier Francois Legault was preparing to charge a health tax penalty to those who were unvaccinated.
The premiers of Ontario and Alberta loosened restrictions last summer, only to tighten them up again.
B.C. has generally managed things better, partly because politicians have not put themselves front and centre for the last two years. Here in Surrey, the RCMP, soon to be replaced by Surrey Police, acted in an exemplar fashion Feb. 12 and 13.
Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Peace Arch News and at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca