WINDSOR, Ontario — Police moved in to clear and arrest the remaining protesters near the busiest U.S.-Canadian border crossing on Sunday, trying to end a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions that has hurt the economy of both nations even as they held back from a crackdown on a larger protest in the capital, Ottawa.
Ottawa: The joint command center was formed by the national and local police. Residents were furious at police inaction, and now they are putting pressure on Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister.
Protests have been heard all over the nation and abroad, including similar protests in France and New Zealand. U.S. Department of Homeland Security warns that there may be truck convoys in the United States.
Windsor police said arrests were being made and vehicles were being towed just after dawn near the Ambassador Bridge that links their city — and numerous Canadian automotive plants — with Detroit.
It was not immediately clear when the bridge might be opened but Windsor’s mayor said he hoped it would be Sunday.
“Enforcement will continue in the demonstration area and there will be zero tolerance for illegal activity. The public should avoid the area,” Windsor police said.
After Saturday’s police operation, which saw 25% of all commerce between the countries crossing over to their territory, there were only a few remaining protestors.
Police said that there were approximately 4,000 protesters in Ottawa on Saturday. On past weekends, the city saw similar increases. People gathered in downtown to listen to loud music.
“The whole city is furious at being abandoned by the people who are supposed to protect us. They are completely against the rule and law. @OttawaPolice have lost credibility. #OttawaPoliceFailed,” tweeted Artur Wilczynski, a senior government national security official at Canada’s Communications Security Establishment.
A former minister in Trudeau’s Cabinet also blasted her former federal colleagues as well as the province and city for not putting an end to the protests.
“Amazingly, this isn’t just Ottawa. It’s the nation’s capital,” Catherine McKenna tweeted. “But no one — not the city, the province or the federal government can seem to get their act together to end this illegal occupation. It’s appalling. … Just get your act together. Now.”
Trudeau has so far rejected calls to use the military, but had said that “all options are on the table” to end the protests that have slowed industries on both sides of the border. Trudeau has called the protesters a “fringe” of Canadian society. Both federal and provincial politicians have said they can’t order police what to do.
Late Saturday, Ottawa police released a statement stating that they had established a joint command centre with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They said that would beef up enforcement capabilities that had been limited by “safety concerns — arising from aggressive, illegal behavior by many demonstrators — limited police enforcement capabilities.”
An earlier statement by police called the protest illegal occupation. They also stated that they were still waiting on reinforcements to implement a plan for the end of the protests.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency last week for the capital, where hundreds of trucks remained in front of the Parliament Buildings and demonstrators have set up portable toilets outside the prime minister’s office where Trudeau’s motorcade usually parks.
Even after protesters’ vehicles were removed early Saturday, hundreds more arrived to bolster the crowd and settled into a faceoff with police about two blocks away, waving flags and yelling.
A judge ordered that the blocking of pickup trucks and cars be lifted on Friday. 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 bridge being closed has forced both parties to reduce or stop production at their auto plants. The industry faces a shortage of computer chips due to pandemics and other disruptions that have already made it difficult for them to keep production running.
“We are protesting the government taking away our rights,” said Windsor resident Eunice Lucas-Logan. “We want the restrictions removed. We have to wait to find out.”
Since the beginning of the four-day protest, she has been supporting it for four days. She expressed gratitude for the patience of police officers.
Stephanie Ravensbergen (31 years old) said she was there to support her aunt, who has parked his semi on the streets of Ottawa since the beginning. She opposes vaccine and mask requirements, and said it’s important for schoolchildren to be able see their friends’ faces and emotions.
“We want the right to choose,” Ravensbergen said. “We want the right to be able to do what everybody else can do.”
Protesters on the opposite side of Canada disrupted another border crossing, which connects Surrey (British Columbia) and Blaine (Washington). Officials said that it wasn’t blocked. The border crossings to Alberta were also closed.
While the protesters are decrying vaccine mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 restrictions, many of Canada’s public health 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. The COVID-19 death rates are one-third lower in Canada than the United States.
Gillies reported from Toronto. Ted Shaffrey from the Associated Press in Ottawa (Ontario) contributed to this article.