Quispamsis residents stressed by protest at premier’s home

Quispamsis Mayor Libby O’Hara says residents feared for their safety during the Feb. 5 protest at Premier Blaine Higgs’s home in Kennebecasis Valley.

The demonstration came as protesters across Canada began blocking land borders and Parliament Hill with large vehicles, railing against COVID-19 regulations and the government’s handling of the deadly virus.

Protesters had previously gathered at the premier’s home around Christmas, but this time, O’Hara said she heard from residents who were “fearful of what it meant for the neighbourhood to have their streets blocked.”

She’s grateful, though, the protest “didn’t progress to that magnitude,” she said, and “everyone remained safe.”

The Kennebecasis Regional Police Force was at the scene of the premier’s home that Saturday night, as a convoy of about 40 cars drove by, some waving Canadian flags and honking their horns.

After the initial convoy drove past the residence, dozens of people parked their vehicles on the side of the road and stood outside the home, waving Canadian flags along with signs against COVID-19 mandates and vaccines.

Protesters declined to speak to the Telegraph-Journal that night.

Kennebecasis police Chief Steve Gourdeau acknowledged there are challenges to policing a demonstration in a residential area, as “a number of passenger vehicles could cause havoc in a small area,” he said. “We have to be careful, we have to plan.”

Both O’Hara and Gourdeau said it’s important that Quispamsis residents “not only are safe, but feel safe.”

“The protest was loud, but peaceful,” he said. “Some residents were anxious, and rightfully so.”

However, Gourdeau acknowledged changes to the Emergency Measures Act announced ahead of the recent Fredericton protest gave police more power to crack down against “unlawful” protesters, including those who block traffic.

“Slow rolls” – protesters driving through various communities – are expected to happen around the province this weekend, according to a social media post.

Gourdeau says he’s prepared to use “very powerful” enforcement tools against protesters who “cross the line” between lawful and unlawful protesting.

In large groups, he said, “all you need is one or two troublemakers.”

The updated mandatory order states anyone who blocks streets with vehicles anywhere in the province, helps them do so, or gathers with people on a highway, may now face stiff fines.

That includes participating in, financing, organizing or aiding any interruption of the normal flow of vehicle traffic on any road or highway, along with delivering fuel, food, drink or other supplies to anyone who is attempting to interrupt the normal flow of vehicle traffic.

Drivers of vehicles blocking roads may also lose their licences for a year.

Fines for blocking roads will start at $3,000, Higgs said at a recent press conference.

Ahead of last week’s protest in Fredericton, large trucks were turned away from the downtown area, and barricades were set up to keep traffic away from the legislature, though protesters gathered on foot.

Gourdeau, though, says he wouldn’t have handled the situation at Higgs’s home any differently.

“Folks made their point and left,” he said. “Everything was peaceful, and we were grateful for that.”

O’Hara said there will be extra costs associated with policing the demonstration, though the figure is yet to be determined.

“Obviously when something to that magnitude is predicted, then we have to be prepared for that, and it’s at a cost to the taxpayers,” she said.“ “There were more police on duty, and I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

Gourdeau said the cost of policing the demonstration will be presented to the Kennebecasis Regional Joint Board of Police Commissioners.

Tiffany Mackay French, chair of the police board, said the board doesn’t weigh in on operational matters.

The $7.625-million budget to run the KV police is split between Quispamsis and Rothesay, with Quispamsis paying about $4.6 million and Rothesay paying just more than $3 million.

Gourdeau wouldn’t confirm how many officers were required to police the protest, but said there were “an adequate” number of officers at the scene, and didn’t require backup from neighbouring police departments.

– With files from Sean Mott, Payge Woodard and Stephen Llewellyn

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