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Dozens gather to support accused in Coutts mischief trial

Posted on April 11, 2024 by Ryan Dahlman

By Delon Shurtz
Southern Alberta Newspapers

Former Fort Macleod councillor Marco Van Huigenbos feels a little like a lamb going to slaughter as the trial begins for he and two other men charged in relation to the Coutts border blockade and protest a little more than two years ago.

Van Huigenbos mingled with supporters on April 2 as they gathered outside the Lethbridge Courthouse, where he, Alex Van Herk and George Janzen prepared to stand trial on a charge of mischief over $5,000.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Van Huigenbos said shortly before entering the courthouse for the Court of King’s Bench judge and jury trial. “It’s been 26 months since Coutts, and it’s been 20 months since we’ve been charged.”

The three men are accused of leading the blockade, which lasted nearly three weeks between January and February of 2022.

Van Huigenbos believes the charges are politically motivated, and said had the accused men been charged under the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act introduced by former premier Jason Kenney, which penalizes anyone who purposely blocks critical infrastructure such as railways and roadways, the men would have faced fines or six months in jail. The charge of mischief under the Criminal Code, however, allows for imprisonment up to 10 years.

“There’s a political element here,” Van Huigenbos said.

“Coutts started a fire that essentially took out a premier through the grassroots movement to take back Alberta…and that led to a lot of changes in government. But there are still those in government that wanted to make sure that there was a price to pay for those who stood up against the government at that time and against government tyranny.”

Betty Carbert, mother of one of four other men who were charged with conspiracy to commit murder during the blockade, was also at the courthouse to support Van Huigenbos, Janzen and Van Herk.

Carbert’s son, Chris, along with Anthony Olienick, are set to stand trial beginning May 27 on their conspiracy charge, as well as charges of possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose and mischief. Olienick faces an additional charge of possession of an explosive substance.

Carbert believes the three co-accused set to begin trial April 2 were charged because police needed to blame and hold someone accountable, and chose the three men simply because they were at the protest. She also believes her son and the other men should never have been charged.

“I feel that it’s totally bogus,” Carbert said, adding that her son is a single father, whose children mean more to him than anything else.

“So he would never put himself in that kind of a position.”

The two other men who also faced charges of conspiracy to commit murder, previously resolved their case with guilty pleas to lesser charges.

Christopher Lysak pleaded Feb. 6 to a single charge of possession of a weapon in an unauthorized place, while Jerry Morin pleaded to a charge of conspiracy to traffic firearms.

Lysak received a three-year prison sentence, but was immediately released after he was credited for the equivalent amount of time he already spent in remand custody since his arrest. Morin received a sentence of just under three and a half years, which was also satisfied by time already served in remand custody, as well as additional time spent in segregation.

Area resident Mandy Palin also showed her support April 2 for Van Huigenbos and his co-accused, and said the real fight is about protecting people’s “God-given” freedom.

“That’s why all these people are here,” Palin said. “They (government) have no right to take it. No man can take it.”

The protest outside the courthouse remained peaceful and calm under the watchful eyes of nearly a dozen police officers who gathered nearby, and unlike previous protests, lacked shouting protestors and blaring speeches.

Many supporters filled a hallway inside the building and sat in an overflow courtroom to hear a live feed of the court proceeding as Justice Keith Yamauchi welcomed eight men and six women to the jury. Two are alternates, who could be excluded from final deliberations.

The trial was expected to start April 2 with the Crown’s opening statement.

It is scheduled to run until April 19.

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