Ontario declares state of emergency as trucker protest continues

Premier Doug Ford threatens fines and jail terms for protesters amid pressure from US

Canada’s Ontario province declared a state of emergency on Friday and Ontario premier Doug Ford threatened fines and jail terms as authorities came under increasing pressure from the US to end anti-Covid-vaccine-mandate protests that have drastically cut trade between the two neighbouring nations.

The "Freedom Convoy" by Canadian truckers opposing a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers entering Canada, mirroring measures in the US, began with the occupation of the Canadian capital, Ottawa. The truckers then blocked the Ambassador Bridge between the US and Canada earlier this week, and shut down two other smaller border crossings.

The closure of the Ambassador Bridge, North America’s busiest international land border crossing and a key supply route for Detroit’s car-makers, has halted some auto output and left officials scrambling to limit economic damage.

“I will convene cabinet to use legal authorities to urgently enact orders that will make crystal clear it is illegal and punishable to block and impede the movement of goods, people and service along critical infrastructure,” Mr Ford said in a press briefing on Friday.

Mr Ford also pledged new legal action against the protesters, including fines and potential jail time for non-compliance with the government’s orders.

Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer on Friday said she has been pushing the Canadian government to get the protest under control and that the bridge blockade was hurting her state.

“The Canadian government has to do whatever it takes to safely and swiftly resolve this,” Ms Whitmer told CNN in an interview.

The Biden administration on Thursday urged Canada to use federal powers to ease the disruption.

Federal forces

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said he was working with municipal leaders to end the blockade. Canada's public safety minister Marco Mendicino said federal police forces would be deployed to Windsor, near the Ambassador Bridge, and to Ottawa.

Mr Mendicino was scheduled to speak with US homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Friday, his office confirmed.

Police in Windsor, Ontario, which borders Detroit, said they had received additional resources from outside jurisdictions to "support a peaceful resolution to the current demonstration at and near the Ambassador Bridge".

In Ottawa, police were waiting on Thursday for a request for provincial and federal reinforcements to be completed. They had made 25 arrests so far. City police chief Peter Sloly expected a potential rise in protesters in the city over the weekend.

Canada sends 75 per cent of its exports to the US and the Ambassador Bridge usually handles 8,000 trucks a day, representing about C$500 million (about €346 million) per day.

General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co, Chrysler parent Stellantis and Toyota Motor Corp have been impacted by the blockades.

Injunction

Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens has sought an injunction from the Ontario superior court to have the protesters at the bridge removed, adding that he was striving to resolve the issue peacefully and ensure that nobody gets hurt.

As many pandemic-weary western countries near the two-year mark on coronavirus restrictions, copycat protests have spread to Australia, New Zealand and France, although the recent wave of infections caused by the highly infectious Omicron variant has begun to subside in some places. – Reuters