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Nova Scotia premier drops border restrictions that sparked day-long blockade

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's premier walked back plans to impose COVID-19-related measures on visitors entering the province from New Brunswick, saying they would be able to come and go without restrictions as of next week.

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's premier walked back plans to impose COVID-19-related measures on visitors entering the province from New Brunswick, saying they would be able to come and go without restrictions as of next week.

Iain Rankin announced the reversal on Thursday following a day-long protest that shut down the Trans Canada Highway after stricter measures were put in place Tuesday.

Rankin said he made the move after New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs provided more information about his province's border measures during a conference call the day before.

"So on June 30 New Brunswickers can come and go freely into Nova Scotia and Nova Scotians can do the same in that province," Rankin said at a Thursday afternoon pandemic briefing.

Rankin said the change wouldn't happen immediately because his province needs one more week to observe COVID-19 case numbers in New Brunswick and to boost second shot vaccination uptake for Nova Scotians aged 65 and older.

"I have full confidence we will get there," he said of the wider opening that includes travellers from the rest of Canada.

However, similar to the current restrictions, people from outside of the Atlantic region will have to complete a check-in form and will be subject to isolation requirements based on their vaccination status and test results.

People who are fully vaccinated at least 14 days before their arrival in Nova Scotia won't have to self-isolate, while those with one dose will have to quarantine for seven days and will need two negative test results during that time.

People who haven't had a shot will have to self-isolate for 14 days and will be subject to testing at the beginning and end of that period.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, defended the previous restrictions for New Brunswick, saying that province took a risk by reopening to the rest of the country last week.

Strang said despite having the same scientific evidence as Dr. Jennifer Russell, his counterpart in New Brunswick, they disagree on what level of risk is acceptable.

"We need to be solid with our borders while we build our own internal protection by having sufficient levels of uptake of the second dose of vaccine," he said.

Nova Scotia's reconsideration for New Brunswick travellers comes after the province announced Tuesday — one day before its boundaries were to reopen to free travel from the rest of Atlantic Canada — that travellers from New Brunswick would need to self-isolate upon arrival.

The announcement resulted in a protest that blocked traffic late Tuesday on the Trans Canada Highway near the Cobequid Pass. The blockade was later moved to the border area with New Brunswick outside of Amherst, N.S. 

Cpl. Chris Marshall, spokesman for Nova Scotia RCMP, said three arrests were made shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday following discussions between police and protesters that lasted several hours during the day. 

Marshall said police were conscious of the need to balance people's right to protest against the fact that it is illegal to block the free flow of traffic on a highway. 

"It became apparent after a number of hours . . . that dialogue alone wasn't going to work, so it was at that point that the decision was made to dismantle the blockade," he said. 

Marshall said the three people arrested were later released and will face mischief charges. 

Meanwhile, the protest resulted in a political casualty Thursday as provincial Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston announced that he was removing Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin from his party's caucus. 

Smith-McCrossin, who represents the riding of Cumberland North, was also barred from running for the Tories in the future after she posted an angry video to Facebook late Tuesday. 

The video warned that unless the border restrictions were changed, she would join with residents of her county who had "had enough" and would be "shutting down the TransCanada Highway." 

"I appreciate her frustration and the frustration of everyone affected by the premier's 11th hour changes," Houston said in a statement. "But Ms. Smith-McCrossin's failure to accept accountability for her actions at the blockade shows a lack of judgment and personal responsibility." 

Nova Scotia reported five new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and now has 59 active infections, while New Brunswick reported two new diagnoses in the past 24 hours. The provincial active case count stands at 40.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases and has seven active infections.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2021. 

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press