Coutts Three trial: Defendants plead not guilty, former border town mayor testifies

In his testimony, Jim Willet said the arrival of protesters in Coutts led him to caution the village's residents of potential danger from the demonstrators.

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Jim Willet, former mayor of Coutts, AB, was the Crown's first witness in the trial of Marco Van Huigenbos, Alex Van Herk, and George Janzen on Wednesday in Lethbridge, AB. The three defendants, often referred to as the Coutts Three or Coutts Trio, are being charged with mischief over $5,000 for their involvement in the Coutts border blockade and protest in 2022.

The Coutts protest took place concurrently with the Freedom Convoy in Ottawa, ON, with the two peaceful protests involving civil disobedience and shared opposition to governmental decrees, edicts, and mandates marketed as "public health" measures in response to COVID-19.

In his testimony, Willet said the arrival of protesters in Coutts led him to caution the village's residents of potential danger from the demonstrators. He said he told the people of Coutts to "lock your doors" and "keep your kids off the streets" given the arrival of "a lot of strangers".

The first half of the day's proceedings were focused on Justice Keith Yamauchi  the judge overseeing the trial  providing instructions to the jurors, who were selected yesterday. The jury was advised to adhere to instructions provided to them by the judge, and to avoid consumption of information outside of the courtroom's proceedings related to the trial or the law, more broadly.

Yamauchi cautioned jurors against being pressured by others  family or friends  into making particular decisions, and directed them not to discuss the trial with anyone but fellow jurors.

The jury was selected during Tuesday's pre-trial proceedings. They were asked attitudinal questions as part of a jury empanelment process designed to screen for partiality in relation to the defendants and circumstances relevant to the charges.

They were asked if they or persons close to them had been "affected by COVID-19", and then asked if they believed they could execute the duties of a jurist impartially if they answered in the affirmative. Potential jurors were also asked if they had strong opinions  in support of or in opposition to  the Coutts border blockade or persons who had been charged or convicted of crimes related to participation in the Coutts protest.

The three defendants all plead not guilty.

While the trial has court resources scheduled until April 17, Steven Johnston, one of the Crown prosecutors, said neither the prosecution nor defence teams expected the trial to run beyond this timeframe.

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