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2022 Year in Review: Anti-government protesters dig in their heels

Central Albertans among protesters charged
A truck convoy of anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate demonstrators block the highway at the busy U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alta., Wednesday, Feb. 2. The province’s vaccine passport is gone but protesters are vowing to hunker down for the long term on the highway leading to the main border crossing in Alberta. (Photo by The Canadian Press)

The so-called “Freedom Convoy” had a Red Deer connection right from the start.

Pat King, 44, of the Red Deer area, was one of the leading figures behind massive protest and among more than 100 people arrested as part of a massive police operation to clear demonstrators who blockaded Parliament Hill for nearly four weeks early this year.

Noise at times during the prolonged protest was overwhelming, with people cheering, car horns blaring, music blasting and vehicles circling in a constant parade. Expletive-laden signs and decals targeting Trudeau were a dominant theme.

Arrests were also made at the lengthy border blockade at Coutts, Alta., and at the six-day protest at Ambassador Bridge, in Windsor, Ont. Both shut down traffic at the U.S./Canada border.

All three protests ended on Feb. 14, the same day the federal Emergencies Act was invoked by the Liberal government which argued it was needed to end the border blockades and the occupation of downtown Ottawa.

The protests were sparked by the Jan. 15, 2022 decision to extend the vaccine mandate at the border to commercial truck drivers which further enraged an already angry segment of Canadians. They had been protesting COVID-19 restrictions for almost two years, but also had other grievances with the government over climate action and energy policy.

But the Public Order Emergency Commission, which has been investigating the federal Liberals’ use of the Emergencies Act, heard there were rifts between the organizers even before they arrived in Ottawa.

King said he quickly found himself on the outs with other organizers because of concerns about his violent and racist rhetoric on social media before the convoy began. One social media video by King, who had a large following, suggested that the prime minister was going to “catch a bullet.”

Another Red Deerian, Luke Berk, 63, was among 11 suspects charged in connection with the Coutts blockade. His matters were eventually stayed, meaning the Crown is not proceeding with the case, although it can be revived within a year, something that rarely happens.

Officers seized 13 long guns, handguns, a machete, a large quantity of ammunition and body armour in Coutts. Two men from Lethbridge, and one man from Claresholm, were charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

At one point during the police operation, protesters attempted to ram a police car with a large farm tractor and a semi truck.

During February, convoy protests against COVID-19 mandates also took place country-wide in major cities, including protests in Vancouver, Toronto, Quebec, Calgary and Edmonton.

Anthony Froese, of Ponoka, who travelled with a group of about 400 cars, including 50 semi-trucks to Edmonton to a protest, said he believed protesters were making a difference.

“It’s amazing down here. It’s loud and we’re going to get the job done. Because we’re not stopping,” Froese said.

“We will win and we’re not going to stop until this is over. Until all mandates are lifted and we get our freedom back. We’re tired of having our freedoms taken away.”

While the federal government imposed a vaccine mandate for federally regulated workers and at the border, almost all COVID-19 restrictions fell to provincial jurisdiction. That included mask mandates, business and school closures, and other public and private gathering limits.

— With files from The Canadian Press