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'Judges of the facts': Jury selected for border blockade trial in Alberta

A truck convoy of anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate demonstrators block the highway at the busy U.S. border crossing at Coutts, Alta., Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. Jury selection has started in a trial for three men charged in connection with the blockade. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Potential jurors were quizzed Tuesday on their opinions about COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and the blockade that paralyzed a major Canada-U.S. border crossing in Alberta.

Marco Van Huigenbos, Alex Van Herk and Gerhard Janzen are charged with mischief over $5,000 in connection with the blockade near the village of Coutts that began in January 2022. 

Justice Keith Yamauchi asked jurors in a Lethbridge courtroom about whether they were impacted by COVID-19 and if they had strong opinions about the Coutts blockade or the accused.

“I support their cause. I don’t believe in their actions,” said a man in his 40s, who was selected as a juror.  

One woman laughed when asked if she had strong feelings about the blockade.  

“That’s a loaded question,” she replied. “Strongly, no.” 

She was also approved for the jury.  

Another woman was excluded when asked about her impartiality. "I will try, but I may be a little biased," she said.

A man whose grandfather died in a seniors' home during the pandemic and another who said he felt strongly about the blockade, but didn’t specify why, were excused.  

In the end, the judge welcomed eight men and six women to the jury box. Two are alternates, who could be excluded from final deliberations.

"You will be asked to set aside any biases so that you can analyze the evidence presented at trial fairly, without bias, prejudice, sympathy or partiality. Jurors are judges of the facts," said Yamauchi.

"They must approach the case with an open mind. They must be impartial. Set aside any prejudices and stereotypes that might affect how you decide this case." 

Before jury selection, the accused met and shook hands with some of the dozens of supporters who gathered outside the courthouse. Some held up protest signs, including one that stated: Freedom is God Given Not Government Given. 

Many then filled a hallway inside the building and sat in an overflow courtroom to hear a live feed of the court proceeding.

The trial is expected to start Wednesday with the Crown's opening statement.

It is scheduled to run until April 19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 2, 2024. 

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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