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Mischief trial begins for 3 men accused in Alberta COVID-19 border blockade |

A Crown prosecutor said Wednesday the trial of three men accused for their role in Alberta’s border blockade two years ago had nothing to do with their beliefs or their right to protest.

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

Protesting health restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic halted traffic through Alberta’s main border crossing with Montana for more than two weeks in 2022.

“Many people have been affected by COVID-19 and the responses to it. This prosecution is not about that,” said Crown prosecutor Steven Johnston, turning to the jury of eight men and six women.

“This essay is not about people’s personal feelings about COVID. This is not a trial over the right to protest.

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Johnston told jurors you can’t interfere with the use of a highway to achieve a goal. He said the three accused played a “key role” in blocking the highway in Coutts, Alta., a village of about 200 people.

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“The Crown is not alleging that these three men before you committed a single act of violence,” he said.

“What the Crown is alleging is that as part of a larger group, they obstructed the use of a major highway in southern Alberta for approximately two weeks. In fact, they had obtained a control valve on Highway 4, the highway that belongs to the province.

Johnston said the evidence will show the three men were the leaders of the protest and had the final say on what happened. He said after 15 days, a single video message the men posted online accomplished what the RCMP could not.

“The protest ended shortly after,” he said.

“They were the group that had the ability to turn the blockade on and off.”

Johnston said he would call Jim Willett, the former mayor of Coutts, as his first witness.

Before Johnston’s comments, Judge Keith Yamauchi spent 40 minutes instructing jurors and emphasizing that all three men are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

“You are the judges of fact… not lawyers, not investigators,” Yamauchi said.

“You must determine whether each of them is guilty or not guilty of the charge against them. It is important that you do not form your opinion until you have heard all the evidence.

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The trial is expected to run until April 19.

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