WINDSOR, Ontario — A tense standoff at a U.S.-Canadian border crossing crucial to both countries’ economies appeared to be dissolving peacefully Saturday as Canadian police moved in to disperse the nearly weeklong blockade and demonstrators began leaving without resistance.
Numerous police officers approached the Ambassador Bridge, which spans the river from Detroit to Windsor in Ontario. The demonstrators had been there all night, defying new warnings about ending the blockade that disrupted traffic and led to both the automotive industry and the government having to halt production.
Surrounded by dozens of officers, a man with “Mandate Freedom” and “Trump 2024” spray-painted on his vehicle left as other protesters began dismantling a small tarp-covered encampment. A truck driver honked his horn as he, too, drove off, to cheers and chants of “Freedom!”
This week’s demonstrations at the Ambassador Bridge, downtown Ottawa and elsewhere have targeted vaccine mandates and other coronavirus restrictions. There is also an outpouring of fury toward Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who has called them a “fringe” of Canadian society.
Outside the United States, protests have been echoed by similar convoys organized in France and New Zealand. In addition, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has warned of possible truck protests.
Windsor police tweeted that no one had been arrested as of mid-morning but urged people to stay away from the bridge: “We appreciate the cooperation of the demonstrators at this time and we will continue to focus on resolving the demonstration peacefully. Avoid area!”
Daniel Kosss was also among the overnighters. Just before the police arrived, he stated that protests had brought attention to COVID-19 mandates. He was glad it did not end in violence.
“It’s a win-win,” Koss said. “The pandemic is rolling down right now, they can remove the mandates, all the mandates, and everyone’s happy. The government does the right thing, and the protesters are all happy.”
He said he believed most people would disperse in an orderly fashion, “because we don’t want to cause a big problem.”
A judge ordered that the blocking of pickup trucks and cars be ended. The Ontario Premier Doug Ford also declared an emergency, which allows for fines up to 100,000 Canadian Dollars as well as imprisonment for those who block roads and bridges.
“The illegal blockades are impacting trade, supply chains & manufacturing. They’re hurting Canadian families, workers & businesses. Glad to see the Windsor Police & its policing partners commenced enforcement at and near the Ambassador Bridge,” Federal Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne tweeted Saturday. “These blockades must stop.”
25 percent of trade flows between Canada and the United States passes through the Ambassador Bridge, which is America’s busiest border crossing. This standoff occurred at a moment when the auto sector is already having trouble maintaining production due to shortages of computer chip and other disruptions in supply chains.
While the protesters are decrying vaccine mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 restrictions, many of Canada’s infection measures, such as mask rules and vaccine passports for getting into restaurants and theaters are already falling away as the omicron surge levels off.
Pandemic restrictions in Canada have been much stricter than those in the U.S. but Canadians support them. A large majority of Canadians have been vaccinated and their COVID-19 mortality rate is about one-third of that in the United States.
On Saturday, protests inspired by Canadian demonstrations could be seen across Europe.
Police intercepted at least 500 vehicles trying to get into Paris via key roads. Over 200 motorists were issued tickets, while at least two other protesters were taken into custody amid the seizure knives, hammers, and other items in a central square.
A few protestors on Champs Elysees Avenue defied a Paris Police order, and the police used tear gas to disperse them. For the weekend protestors, around 7,000 police officers were mobilized. They are protesting the French vaccination pass required to enter many restaurants and other places.
In The Netherlands, however, hundreds of trucks and other vehicles from tractor to car and tractors arrived and blocked the entry to The Hague’s historical parliamentary compound. Protesters on foot joined them, carrying a banner emblazoned with “Love & freedom, no dictatorship” in Dutch.
Protesters arrived at Parliament in New Zealand earlier this week with a group of vehicles and trucks. They set up tent and refused to leave. The police have reacted to the protesters’ initial attempts at removing them, which led to confrontations.
New Zealand Parliament Speaker Trevor Mallard on Friday ordered his staff to turn on the lawn’s sprinklers to douse them and to play Barry Manilow tunes and the 1990s hit “Macarena” over loudspeakers to annoy them. Protesters responded by playing their own songs, including Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
Gillies reported in Toronto. Nick Perry contributed from Wellington in New Zealand.