Three Men Found Guilty in Coutts Highway Blockade Trial

Three men found guilty of mischief over $5,000 for their roles in the Coutts, Alberta border blockade during the COVID-19 pandemic. The case highlights the tensions between the right to protest and the rule of law.

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Hadeel Hashem
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Three Men Found Guilty in Coutts Highway Blockade Trial

Three Men Found Guilty in Coutts Highway Blockade Trial

A jury has found guilty three men - Alex Van Herk, Marco Van Huigenbos, and Gerhard (George) Janzen - guilty of mischief over $5,000 for their roles in the COVID-19 protest blockade at the Coutts, Alberta border crossing in early 2022. The Crown argued that the three were key players and became the 'faces' of the two-week blockade that disrupted cross-border traffic between Canada and the United States.

During closing arguments in the trial for three men charged in Coutts blockade, Crown prosecutor Steven Johnston contended that the accused did not need to be proven as the leaders of the protest in order to be convicted. He said the evidence showed Van Herk, Van Huigenbos, and Janzen clearly supported the blockade and used words like 'we', 'our', and 'us' when speaking on behalf of the protesters.

The defense lawyers argued that their clients were moderates who played a small role in the demonstration, which involved numerous strong-willed protesters who did not always publicly agree. One lawyer said Van Huigenbos was turned into a 'messenger' by the RCMP rather than being a true leader.

Why this matters: The guilty verdicts in the Coutts blockade trial carry implications for how Canadian authorities respond to disruptive protests and the limits of dissent. The case also highlights the tensions between the right to protest and the rule of law when demonstrations interfere with critical infrastructure and trade.

Several witnesses, including RCMP officers and the former mayor of Coutts, testified that the three accused emerged as leaders and the main points of contact for the protesters as the blockade dragged on. The judge instructed the jury that a mischief conviction requires an obstruction of property, unlawful action, willful conduct, and intent to commit a crime.

The jury reached the guilty verdicts after deliberating for three hours, which was met with surprise from the courtroom packed with supporters of Van Herk, Van Huigenbos, and Janzen. The three men face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and a pre-sentence report has been ordered for all of them. The case is scheduled to appear again on July 22 for a sentencing hearing.

Key Takeaways

  • 3 men found guilty of mischief over $5,000 for Coutts border blockade
  • Crown argued they were key players and 'faces' of the 2-week protest
  • Defense claimed they were moderates with small roles, not true leaders
  • Guilty verdicts carry implications for authorities' response to disruptive protests
  • Men face up to 10 years in prison, sentencing hearing scheduled for July 22