Canadian police clearing out truckers blocking Ontario bridge

Protestors moved to the middle of the road and sang the Canadian national anthem

Police in Windsor, Ontario have begun moving in to clear out protesters who’ve been blocking the Ambassador Bridge that connects Canada with Detroit since Monday.

Police were gathering in rows near the bridge at about 8:45 a.m. Toronto time. Dozens of demonstrators and about 40 vehicles are part of the blockade. As police began their action, a number of the protesters moved to the middle of the roadway and began singing the Canadian national anthem.

Ontario's Superior Court granted an injunction Friday to end the blockade, the same day Ontario Premier Doug Ford called a state of emergency in Canada's largest province and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told protesters that it's time to go home.

Windsor police confirmed the action on Twitter.

The Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit has been closed almost entirely since Monday night. The conduit carries about one-quarter of the commercial goods trade between the U.S. and Canada and is particularly vital to the auto sector, which relies on a supply chain that includes factories in Ontario and Quebec. Automakers including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Stellantis NV and Toyota Motor Corp. have been forced to curb production this week for lack of parts.

Ontario’s premier Friday called the situation “a pivotal moment for our nation” and said the eyes of the world were watching how Canada and its leaders deal with public unrest over vaccine mandates and Covid-19 restrictions. His government enacted new powers to end the blockades, including the threat of fines and jail time.

Police passed out fliers last night at the bridge protest warning of the penalties for not leaving.

Protesters in Canada opposing pandemic restrictions flouted a court order and emergency rules, continuing to occupy a vital trade corridor with the United States early on Saturday, hours after a judge granted an injunction to end the blockade that has crippled North America's well-knitted motor industry.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has promised US president Joe Biden quick action to end the crisis, and on Friday a Canadian judge ordered an end to the four-day-long blockade of the Ambassador Bridge, North America's busiest land border crossing.

The order came into effect five hours after the deadline, and some 100 protesters were milling around the entrance to the bridge, waving Canadian flags.

While the number of protesters and police dropped as the night progressed, demonstrators continued to block the bridge with trucks and pick-up vans, preventing any flow of traffic in either direction.

Protesters sang the Canadian national anthemand some shouted, “Freedom!”

Police, who started to gather in a parking lot a few blocks away from the protesters, began handing out pamphlets that outlined penalties under Ontario’s emergency order, which took effect at midnight.

Mr Trudeau earlier told reporters that no action was off the table.

Companies have diverted cargo to stem losses amid production cuts by companies including Ford .

Superior Court Justice Geoffrey Morawetz on Friday approved the request by auto industry associations and Windsor city authorities hoping to end the protests. Occupying access roads leading to the bridge on Friday, protesters voiced defiance and there was little sign of them backing down.

"Canada is supposed to be a free country," said Liz Vallee, a protester from Chatham, Ontario. "When that freedom is threatened, we must stand up." Ms Vallee said she and others would stay until all pandemic mandates are lifted.

The “Freedom Convoy” protests, started by Canadian truckers opposing a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, are also occupying areas outside government buildings in the national capital Ottawa and have blocked two smaller US crossings.

The protests have inspired similar convoys and plans in France, New Zealand, Australia and the United States, whose department of homeland security is working to ensure that a "Freedom Convoy" event due in early March in Washington "does not disrupt lawful trade".

East of Ottawa, people were expected to gather in Fredericton in the province of New Brunswick for a weekend demonstration. Local police said officers were stationed at entrances to the city to ensure traffic can continue. Canada's financial capital Toronto was also bracing for more weekend demonstrations.

US pressure

Adding to calls for action by US officials and business leaders, Mr Biden expressed concerns over auto plant closures and production slowdowns during a phone call with Mr Trudeau, the White House said in a statement.

“The two leaders agreed that the actions of the individuals who are obstructing travel and commerce between our two countries are having significant direct impacts on citizens’ lives and livelihoods,” the statement said.

“The prime minister promised quick action in enforcing the law and the president thanked him for the steps he and other Canadian authorities are taking to restore the open passage of bridges to the United States,” it added.

Mr Trudeau told reporters that he agreed with Mr Biden that the blockades cannot continue. “Everything is on the table because this unlawful activity has to end and it will end,” Mr Trudeau said.

US-Canada cross-border trade in vehicles and core parts totalled $51.5 billion (€45 billion) in 2021, IHS Markit estimates.

Mr Biden’s administration had urged Canada to use federal powers to ease the Ambassador Bridge blockade, a step Mr Trudeau’s government has not taken. Mr Trudeau said on Friday his government was not seriously contemplating calling in the military over the protests.

The leader of Ontario, where police have avoided using force to disperse protesters, sought to build pressure on Friday by threatening 100,000 Canadian-dollar (€69,000) fines and up to a year in prison for non-compliance.

Announcing the penalties as part of emergency measures, Ontario premier Doug Ford said they were needed to “make crystal clear it is illegal and punishable to block and impede the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure”.

Windsor police issued a statement warning of arrests, but it was not clear if or when authorities would begin issuing fines or seeking jail sentences.

Economic losses

With car production cuts mounting, Ford, the second-largest US auto-maker, said on Friday it had temporarily halted work at its assembly plant in Ohio. General Motors and Toyota also announced new production cuts.

The stock of Canadian autoparts maker Magna International fell 6.4 per cent on Friday after it said it had seen an initial hit from the bridge's closure.

Beyond motor sector losses, the three US-Canada crossings obstructed account for 33 per cent of Canada’s trade with the US, valued at $616 million (€543 million) per day, Export Development Canada said.

The bridge’s shutdown could worsen the tight supply of new vehicles in the US and contribute to the already fast-rising price of new vehicles, IHS Markit said in a Friday report. Even if the blockade ends, a return to normal will take several weeks as shortages cascade through the supply chain, IHS Markit said.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, home to nearly a fifth of US car production, told CNN: “The Canadian government has to do whatever it takes to safely and swiftly resolve this.” – Reuters. Additional reporting by Bloomberg