The main border crossing between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick has been closed for more than 18 hours, blocked by dozens of protesters demonstrating against restrictions that require most travellers from New Brunswick to self-isolate upon arrival in Nova Scotia.
The protesters include a number with anti-vaccine views. At one point, some briefly tried to stop a tractor-trailer they believed had COVID-19 vaccine, but which RCMP officers at the scene said contained blood products, from being escorted by police across the border into Nova Scotia.
The truck eventually passed through, as did some nurses and doctors trying to get to work at the hospital in Amherst, N.S.
The Nova Scotia government announced Tuesday afternoon that most travellers from New Brunswick will continue to have to self-isolate upon arrival, a decision that came less than 24 hours before Nova Scotia opened its borders with P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador without isolation or testing requirements.
Nova Scotia has for months required most travellers to quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in the province after applying for entry online. People have had to present documentation at the border showing they’ve been approved for entry.
People travelling from New Brunswick — including Nova Scotians returning from that province — can enter Nova Scotia for any reason, but will have isolation and testing requirements based on their vaccination status. There are exemptions for those travelling for essential health services, work, child custody or veterinary reasons.
New Brunswick had initially been included in Nova Scotia’s Wednesday reopening plans for travellers in the Atlantic region, announced little more than a week ago. Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin’s last-minute reversal has angered many people in the Maritimes who had eagerly anticipated being able to freely cross the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border.
Rankin said the decision was prompted by New Brunswick opening its borders to Canadian travellers from outside the Atlantic region last week without the requirement they self-isolate, provided they have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. It is the only Atlantic Canadian province to do so.
The premiers of the Atlantic provinces are due to meet Wednesday afternoon, and the border closure will be “the top priority,” according to a statement from the P.E.I. government.
The province said it is concerned about the disruption at the border, which is “an important connecting route for Prince Edward Island and we need that to be open as soon as possible.”
In New Brunswick, Premier Blaine Higgs also called for an end to the blockade and urged people to “not lose sight of the big goal” during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
“This isn’t a time to lose control, or lose patience, or cause disruptions to our friends and neighbours,” he said.
In response to Rankin’s announcement, people started protesting shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday. All four lanes at Exit 7 on the Trans-Canada Highway at the Cobequid Pass — about 50 kilometres from the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border — were closed for the rest of the evening.
That section later reopened, but the border itself was closed before midnight and protesters are gathered there Wednesday. A number of vehicles are blocking the highway, while others are parked along the side. Drivers at the other, less-busy border crossing at Tidnish, N.S., tweeted about long delays there due to protesters.
On the New Brunswick side of the Trans-Canada, RCMP officers were stopping eastbound vehicles just before the exit to Aulac to advise them of the shutdown. Dozens of tractor-trailers were pulled over in Aulac and some had been there since Tuesday night.
The town of Amherst, on the Nova Scotia side of the border, is crammed with waiting tractor-trailers and other vehicles, and officials said there is no more room.
RCMP were stationed at the border overnight. CBC’s Brett Ruskin estimated there were between 30 and 40 protesters Wednesday morning.
Cpl. Chris Marshall, who speaks for Nova Scotia RCMP, said beyond blocking the highway, no laws had been broken but a “significant number of people” were protesting on both sides of the border.
He said the force was in the process of bringing in additional resources and planned to continue dialogue with the protesters.
“To see if we can’t get these folks to essentially, at the very least, even get off the highway so we can reopen it. So we can continue a dialogue with them to determine what it is that they’re looking for,” Marshall said.
“Unfortunately, it’s not a quick process and it’s not an easy process. There’s a fine line we have to walk where people have a Charter-protected right to protest, to peacefully assemble…. It’s all a matter of peacefully trying to resolve the matter.”
Marshall said Wednesday afternoon that protesters have allowed “a handful” of trucks carrying essential goods to cross the border after speaking with police.
Police don’t have a timeline or plan around when they would step in to shut the protest down and make arrests, Marshall said.
A provincial spokesperson for the Department of Environment confirmed in an email Wednesday that border liaison officials are checking travelers forms as people come through the checkpoint.
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