Edmonton Journal

Defence argues accused in 2022 Coutts blockade wasn't one of the leaders


LETHBRIDGE A lawyer for one of three men on trial for their roles in the border blockade at Coutts argued Thursday his client was nothing more than a messenger.

Crown prosecutor­s have told jurors they intend to prove the trio spearheade­d the protest that tied up traffic at the Canada-United States border crossing for two weeks in early 2022 in protest of COVID-19 pandemic rules and restrictio­ns.

Alex Van Herk, Marco Van Huigenbos and Gerhard Janzen have each pleaded not guilty to a charge of mischief over $5,000.

RCMP Sgt. Greg Tulloch has testified he worked to establish a dialogue with the protesters and identified Van Huigenbos as the main contact.

During cross-examinatio­n, a lawyer for Van Huigenbos questioned whether his client really was a leader or if, like the officer, he was simply a conduit delivering messages to those in charge.

“Have you ever heard the phrase, `Don't shoot the messenger?' I'm going to suggest that's really what Marco was here. He was a messenger, a communicat­or, a spokespers­on for the group — not a leader,” Ryan Durran told the jury trial.

Tulloch replied, “That's far too simplified from the impression I was left with. Because when things were happening, they happened immediatel­y after Marco said he would do something or transmit a message.

“There was no lag time a lot of the time, whereas I would have that lag time before something could happen.”

Durran said Van Huigenbos was not considered an “agitator” and did not have a semi-trailer truck parked at the protest.

He said his client and others wanted the protest to leave Coutts and move up to Edmonton.

The attempt failed.

Tulloch maintained that he considered Van Huigenbos to be at the top of the inner circle of the protest, followed by Janzen and, to a lesser degree, Van Herk.

The officer said Van Huigenbos appeared to be a leader, citing the accused's “ability to make things happen in the way that he did, the way he spoke about it and the way he told us what his role was ... that, to me, does not signify messenger,” Tulloch said.

“We continued to talk to him because he could make decisions,

I'm not sure that in the beginning that he orchestrat­ed anything ... But certainly he assumed the role of leader ...

because he seemed to want to also deal with us.”

Under further examinatio­n by the Crown, Tulloch said his job was to continue to communicat­e with the protesters, and finding a leader is the best way to go.

“The continuous meeting and speaking with other people was really just an opportunit­y to show us as being approachab­le and not the Gestapo we were being made out to be,” said the officer, referring to police in Nazi Germany.

He said Van Huigenbos grew into the role of leader.

“I'm not sure that in the beginning that he orchestrat­ed anything or that he caused all of this to start up,” Tulloch said. “But certainly he assumed the role of leader when there was nobody else to do so.”

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