COUTTS, Alta. — A protest that closed the main crossing between Alberta and the United States may have ended this week, but there’s some concern it has created a different kind of division in the border community caught in the middle of the dispute.
With a population of just 250 people, Coutts, Alta., was thrust into the national spotlight when a convoy of truckers and their supporters set up on the main highway into the village on Jan. 29 to demand an end to mandated vaccines and other pandemic health measures.
It ended in a cacophony of blaring horns as the blockade broke up and rolled out on Tuesday.
Mayor Jim Willett joked that there’s “no such thing as bad publicity,” but in an interview he voiced worries that Coutts has become divided between those who supported the truckers and those who did not.
“We’ve talked about polarization of the community. You’re going to have people on one side and on the other,” Willett said.
“I’ve had one couple tell me they’re moving out of town and I’ve got people who have left town. Friendships have been torn up. There are people who think I’m a traitor. It may be years before we recover from this.”
Support for the truckers is evident when you drive through Coutts. An upside-down Canadian flag hangs on the fence of one home. Written in chalk on another fence are the words, “Libras (Liberals) are Commies” and “We need Alberta police force — Gastapo (sic) leave trukers(sic) alone”.
One woman, who didn’t want to give her name, stood filming the convoy as it left town.
“I’m glad it’s over,” she said. “It’s been a long two weeks.”
Longtime Coutts resident Margaret O’Hara said she’s not sure there’s much of a rift, but agreed misunderstandings can happen.
“I had lunch with a friend recently after not seeing her for a while, and she said she was worried I was mad at her, because she didn’t support the protests. I had no idea,” O’Hara said.
“If there is a division, I don’t think it will last that long. I would hope people would get past that. There are always differences of opinion.”
Keith Dangerfield, who along with his wife Carolyn operates the Hills of Home Cafe/Bed and Breakfast, was an avid supporter of the truckers. His restaurant became a regular gathering spot.
He said there’s a third group that’s part of the division — people who had mixed feelings about the blockade.
Dangerfield, who is also a pastor, said some were in favour of the protest, but didn’t like goods coming from the United States being blocked.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said earlier this week that the Coutts blockade was costing $48 million a day in lost trade.
Dangerfield said he doubts hard feelings will last.
“This town has had all kinds of things happen. The people who are against the trucks and the people who are for the trucks will go out and have barbecues next summer,” he said.
“The rest of us should get on with life and just move on.”