Canadian authorities look to the courts to break blockade
Canada authorities will head to court in a bid to break the ongoing bridge blockade by drivers protesting against the country’s Covid-19 restrictions.
The mayor of Windsor in Ontario plans to seek an injunction at a Friday hearing against members of the so-called “Freedom Convoy”, who have used scores of pick-up trucks to clog up the Ambassador Bridge connecting the city to Detroit.
The stand-off, which has sent a parts shortage rippling through the car industry on both sides of the US-Canada border, has entered its fifth day.
American legislators are freaking out, and rightfully so. Pressure is now being exerted by the White House on Trudeau to act more decisively
Federal, provincial and local authorities have hesitated to forcibly remove the protesters there and elsewhere around the country, apparently reflecting a lack of local police manpower, Canada’s reverence for free speech, and a fear of a violent backlash.
Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens warned earlier this week that some of the drivers are “willing to die”.
But the pressure to reopen the bridge appeared to be mounting, with Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Honda closing car factories or cancelling shifts because of parts shortages, and the Biden administration urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to use its federal powers to end the blockade.
Michigan’s governor likewise called on Canadian authorities to quickly resolve the stand off.
The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest US-Canadian border crossing, carrying 25% of all trade between the two countries.
The stand off comes at a time when the car industry is already struggling to maintain production in the face of pandemic-induced shortages of computer chips and other supply-chain disruptions.
This is an unprecedented demonstration. It has significant levels of fundraising, co-ordination and communication. They have command centres established here and across the country and beyond this country
“American legislators are freaking out, and rightfully so,” said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.
“Pressure is now being exerted by the White House on Trudeau to act more decisively.”
Hundreds of demonstrators in vehicles have also paralysed the streets of Ottawa city centre for almost two weeks now, and have now closed three border crossings in all – at Windsor; at Coutts, Alberta, opposite Montana; and at Emerson, Manitoba, across from North Dakota.
The Freedom Convoy has been promoted and cheered on by many Fox News personalities and attracted support from the likes of former President Donald Trump.
“This is an unprecedented demonstration. It has significant levels of fundraising, co-ordination and communication. They have command centres established here and across the country and beyond this country,” embattled Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly said.
On Friday, amid signs that authorities might be prepared to get tough, police in Windsor and Ottawa awaited reinforcements from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The protests have spread outside Canada as well. Demonstrators angry over pandemic restrictions drove toward Paris in scattered convoys of camper vans, cars and trucks on Friday in an effort to blockade the French capital, despite a police ban.
And in a bulletin to local and state police officers, the US Department of Homeland Security warned that lorry protests may be in the works in the United States.
The agency said the protests could begin in Southern California as early as this weekend and spread to Washington around the State of the Union address in March.
Mr Wiseman said the Canadian army should have been called in after a week of the Ottawa stand off.
“Hesitancy by federal authorities to act decisively has emboldened the occupiers and copycat occupations,” he said.
“Ottawa, I believe, will be compelled to use the army.”
The Canadian protesters are decrying vaccine mandates for lorry drivers and other Covid-19 restrictions and are railing against Mr Trudeau, though many of the country’s infection measures are already rapidly being lifted as the Omicron surge levels off.
Mr Trudeau continues to stand firm against lifting vaccine mandates. The Prime Minister has called protesters a “fringe” who believe in conspiracy theories and wear “tinfoil hats.”
His comments have only incensed them further.
Pandemic restrictions have been far stricter in Canada than in the US but Canadians have largely supported them.
The vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated and the Covid-19 death rate is one-third that of the United States.
Canada lacks hospital capacity so provinces have been quick to impose lockdowns when waves have hit.
Conservative Ontario premier Doug Ford moved to cut off funding for the protests by successfully asking a court to freeze millions of dollars in donations to the convoy through crowd-funding site GiveSendGo.
Mr Ford has called the protests an occupation and is expected to announce further measures later on Friday.
Canadian officials previously got GoFundMe to cut off funding after protest organisers used the site to raise about 10 million Canadian dollars (£5.74 million).
GoFundMe said the fundraising effort violated the site’s terms of service because of unlawful activity.
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