12 February 2022

Police move in on protesters at key US-Canada border crossing

12 February 2022

Canadian police have moved in to remove protesters at a key bridge border crossing with the United States.

Activists at the busiest border crossing between the two countries – Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan – are demonstrating against Canada’s Covid-19 mandates and restrictions.

There is also an outpouring of fury towards the country’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

About 20 protesters milled about outside early on Saturday, while others remained in their pickup trucks and other cars.

A protester screams at police in Ottawa (The Canadian Press via AP) (AP)

A judge on Friday ordered protesters at the Ambassador Bridge over the US-Canadian border to end the blockade, which has now entered a sixth day.

On Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency in the province that will allow his cabinet to impose 100,000-dollar fines and up to one year in jail as punishments against people who continue to illegally block roads, bridges, walkways and other critical infrastructure.

Chief justice Geoffrey Morawetz of the Ontario superior court issued an injunction giving protesters blocking cross-border traffic until 7pm on Friday to clear out. However, the deadline came and went.

Windsor police immediately warned that anyone blocking the streets could be subject to arrest and their vehicles could be seized.

Since Monday, drivers mostly in pickup trucks have bottled up the bridge connecting Windsor to Detroit. Hundreds more truckers have paralysed downtown Ottawa over the past two weeks. There was a party atmosphere there Friday night, when they even set up a concert stage.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (The Canadian Press via AP) (AP)

Protesters have also blocked two other border crossings, in Alberta and Manitoba.

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.

Mr Ford said he would convene the provincial cabinet on Saturday to urgently enact measures that make it “crystal clear” it is illegal to block critical infrastructure.

The measures will also provide additional authority “to consider taking away the personal and commercial licenses of anyone who doesn’t comply”, Mr Ford said.

Mr Trudeau called Ontario’s decision “responsible and necessary” and said he spoke with US president Joe Biden on the matter.

A person waves a Canadian flag in front of Parliament Hill during a protest against COVID-19 measures in Ottawa (The Canadian Press via AP) (AP)

He said he agreed with Mr Biden that “for the security of people and the economy, these blockades can’t continue”.

Mr Trudeau said he understands the protesters are frustrated by the pandemic, but “these blockades are hurting everyday families, auto assembly workers, farmers, truckers, blue-collar Canadians”.

The protests have caused shortages of car parts that have forced General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Honda to close plants or cancel shifts.

While the Canadian protesters are decrying vaccine mandates for truckers and other Covid-19 restrictions, many of the country’s infection measures, such as mask rules and vaccine passports for getting into restaurants and theatres, are already falling away as the Omicron surge levels off.

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 a third of the total in the United States.

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