Police in Windsor, Ontario have begun to clear out people who’ve been blocking the Ambassador Bridge between Canada with Detroit in a protest against Covid-19 restrictions. But freight traffic remains halted there.
Officers in yellow vests gathered in rows near the bridge in Windsor Saturday morning and marched slowly toward the group, warning them verbally they could face criminal charges if they continue to occupy roadways.
As police slowly backed protesters up Windsor’s Huron Church Road and away from the bridge, they were also shutting down streets throughout the city in an effort to keep more vehicles from joining the demonstration. They were creating an ever-widening perimeter around downtown and the neighborhood that holds the main demonstration site.
Dozens of demonstrators are still part of the blockade; they have backed up but refused to leave. Tow trucks have arrived to move their vehicles. There was no traffic moving from Detroit to Windsor on the bridge as of 2:14 p.m. New York time, according to the website of Canada’s border agency. Those lanes have been closed since the protesters arrived Monday.
As officers began their action, a number of the protesters moved to the middle of the roadway and began singing the Canadian national anthem. Some chanted “Freedom,” confronted officers or shouted profanities at them.
“These are people who have been told by protest organizers that they’re violating no laws,” Michael Kempa, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, told CBC News. “So the police have a tough challenge on their hands in that they’re constantly trying to demonstrate to people that their protest is, in fact, illegal. That’s why they’re moving so slowly. It’s just a constant communicative strategy.”
Ontario’s Superior Court granted an injunction Friday to end the blockade, hours after Ontario Premier Doug Ford called a state of emergency in Canada’s largest province and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told protesters that it’s time to go home. A larger protest has been taking place for more than two weeks in Ottawa, where hundreds of semi trucks have blocked downtown streets, including the one in front of Canada’s parliament.
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 — an estimated $13.5 million an hour.
It’s particularly vital to the auto sector, which relies on a supply chain that includes assembly plants and parts makers 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. An association of auto parts manufacturers was among the parties that applied for the court injunction.
The demonstrations have had staying power in Canada in large part because police, wary of stoking violence, have hesitated to make arrests and clear the blockades.
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 of as much as C$100,000 ($78,500) and jail time.
Police passed out fliers Friday night at the bridge protest, warning of the penalties for not leaving. But many protesters said they had no intention of budging.
“This is about freedom. And this is about our rights being stolen from us,” said Ronald Lyons, who was there with his adult son. “I’m willing to starve for this country.”
Another protester who declined to give her full name said she was willing to be arrested rather than back down. The woman said she was a former health-care worker who lost her job because she refused to get vaccinated, and now works as a supermarket cashier for half the pay.