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Both sides of the line

KINGSTON, Ont. - It's well after the publicly pre-announced start time of what is supposed to be a protest against the Kananaskis, Alta. G8 summit and there's something missing: Protesters.The angry m...

KINGSTON, Ont. – It’s well after the publicly pre-announced start time of what is supposed to be a protest against the Kananaskis, Alta. G8 summit and there’s something missing: Protesters.

The angry mob was to hit Hwy. 401 westbound at 9 a.m. on June 25, clogging traffic on its journey to Belleville, Ont. before doing an about face en route to the nation’s capital. But traffic is still whipping by a collection of cop cruisers at the standard 120 km-h.

Suddenly Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer Larry Scott’s radio crackles to life…

“OK, apparently the plan was for them to trickle out to Belleville at regular highway speeds,” says the unidentified voice. “If you see any of ’em, mark ’em and we’ll figure out somewhere to regroup.”

The officer readies to pull back onto the highway from the gravel shoulder, but not before another nameless officer responds to the change in strategy.

“I’ve got one in my sights heading westbound just past Hwy. 38…”

Utilizing a swarm of both marked and unmarked cruisers and SUVs – and even a helicopter for aerial surveillance – Plan B pays off and the provincial cops have trailed the ragtag collection of pseudo-bohemians to the Village Gas Bar in tiny Shannonville, just east of Belleville.

The protesters seem to be oblivious to the blue ghost car parked just a couple hundred metres away.

Truck News is told to leave by several of the protesters who don’t seem to like questions posed on behalf of the truckers sure to be caught in the middle of their demonstration. No one wants to be identified; no one wants to take responsibility for what is about to happen…

“I don’t understand, if the summit is in Alberta, why are they blocking highways in Ontario?” asks the young girl working the full service fuel island.

No answer immediately comes to mind and the protesters clearly don’t want to acknowledge her question.

The slogan-regurgitating radicals are then alerted to the presence of law enforcement and all hell breaks loose. An emergency meeting is called in the dusty parking lot.

“There’s gonna be cops and that is what it is,” says a protester referring to himself by only his given name: Matt. (He is later identified by Truck News as Matt Killburn of Kingston.)

About 25 bandannas cluster and the group decides the time to roll is at hand.

Shortly before 11 a.m. no more than a dozen cars – a couple sporting large anti-G8 signs – heads for the 401.

The on-ramp shoulders are strewn with police vehicles and the mob is heading straight for a possible showdown, but the police do nothing to impede the subversive convoy and it pulls onto Hwy. 401.

Half of the country’s main trade corridor is instantly jammed.

Members of the group who earlier refused to identify themselves to Truck News (one member suggested they feared retribution from angry truckers) are now shielding their faces from the flash of the camera – occasionally making lewd gestures at the photographer.

As the procession inches ever closer to Ottawa, a white minivan – Ontario plates 400 XFE – and a gold Chevy – Ontario plates 553 RCD – lead the way.

The mob slows the flow of traffic, and in its eyes, the global economy, to speeds as low as 14 km-h. According to reports from the OPP helicopter, global positioning readings suggest the tie-up stretches some 11.5km at its peak.

The OPP is doing more than just observing, mind you. The mixed bag of vehicles has been leapfrogging non-participants using interchanges and occasionally the soft shoulder; it’s an attempt to isolate the lead pack of nine cars from the rest of the traffic.

Unfortunately the potentially hazardous maneuver is clearly going to take time to accomplish. If the protesters are simply stopped on the highway the shutdown will be both total and lengthy.

Frustrated truckers and motorists, most of whom know nothing of the protesters or their cause, begin to pull off heading for Hwy. 2 and north to Hwy. 7.

By the Hwy. 15 exit on the eastern side of Kingston, the demonstrators have turned a 45-minute run into a two and a half-hour root canal. At this point nearly half of the snared vehicles bolt up the off-ramp to bypass the unwelcome delay.

One such trucker with Uniline out of Cambridge, Ont. stops for a matter of seconds to vent his frustration to Truck News. While he didn’t have time to identify himself, the name under his window is Mike.

“I called the OPP on my cell phone and asked, ‘Why the hell are you allowing them to do this?’ but they just said there was nothing they could do,” relays the frustrated professional. “When truckers were on the side of the road protesting fuel prices (in early 2000), they threw them in jail. It’s total crap.”

But the police continue to jockey for position, like skilled racecar drivers setting up passing attempts in slow-motion replays. Near the small resort community of Ivy Lea the long arm of the law embraces the activists, pulling them off the road and into the Lansdowne inspection station.

The drivers of the earlier mentioned lead cars – and a third protester – are fined $110 for impeding the flow of traffic. It’s an offense to drive under 60 km-h on Hwy. 401.

The collection of blue-haired students and grey-haired throwbacks is allowed to continue on its way, but the warning is understood, and traffic returns to its normal speed.

“The Windsor-Montreal corridor is the main trade route in the country,” says a protester in claiming victory. “We’re directly affecting the economy.”

The other thing they directly affected of course was the pay earned by the hundreds of hard-working truckers caught in the midst of this rally on wheels – most of the unlucky operators are compensated by the mile.

“I’ve got refrigerated goods in my truck,” says David Ellis whose run to Montreal was impacted by the delay.

“Why don’t they just go to Alberta?”

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