Key U.S.-Canada Bridge Reopens After Police Clear Protesters
WINDSOR, Ontario — The busiest U.S.-Canada border crossing reopened late Sunday after protests against COVID-19 restrictions closed it for almost a week, while Canadian officials held back from a crackdown on a larger protest in the capital, Ottawa.
Detroit International Bridge Co. said in a statement that “the Ambassador Bridge is now fully open allowing the free flow of commerce between the Canada and US economies once again.” Esther Jentzen, spokeswoman for the company, said in a later text to The Associated Press that the bridge reopened to traffic at 11 p.m. EST.
The crossing usually carries 25% trade between these two countries. Automakers were forced to close several of their assembly plants due to the disruption caused by the Canadian blockade.
Police in Windsor, Ontario, said earlier in the day that more than two dozen people had been peacefully arrested, seven vehicles towed and five seized as officers cleared the last demonstrators from near the bridge, which links the city — and numerous Canadian automotive plants — with Detroit.
The Ottawa protest has, however, paralyzed the city and angered residents fed up by police inaction. They turned up the pressure on Justin Trudeau (Prime Minister) at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting.
A senior government official said Trudeau planned to meet virtually with the leaders of Canada’s provinces Monday morning. An official speaking on condition that they remain anonymous because they are not allowed to talk publicly, said Trudeau.
Demonstrations have been heard across Canada, and elsewhere, as well as similar ones in France, New Zealand, and the Netherlands. U.S. Department of Homeland Security warns that there may be truck convoys in the United States.
Although the protest ended, the Ambassador Bridge was still closed throughout the day. Drew Dilkens (Windsor Mayor) had indicated that the span will be opened once it is safe.
Canada’s industry minister, François-Philippe Champagne, welcomed the development, saying on Twitter: “Good news. Glad to see that the Ambassador Bridge is now reopened.”
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration on Sunday acknowledged the seemingly peaceful resolution to the demonstration, which it said had “widespread damaging impacts” on the “lives and livelihoods of people” on both sides of the border.
“We stand ready to support our Canadian partners wherever useful in order to ensure the restoration of the normal free flow of commerce can resume,” Homeland Security Advisor Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randall said in a statement.
The mayor of Ottawa (about 500 miles north of Windsor) announced Sunday that the city had reached a settlement with the protestors who had clogged the streets of downtown for over two weeks. They will be allowed to leave residential areas within the next 24 hours.
Watson indicated that Watson would be willing to meet protestors if they restricted their protest to Parliament Hill and relocated their trucks or other vehicles from nearby residential communities by noon Monday.
The mayor shared a letter from one of the protest’s organizers, Tamara Lich, in which she said demonstrators “agree with your request” to focus activities at Parliament Hill. But Lich later denied there was an agreement, saying in a tweet: “No deal has been made. Stop mandating, stop passports. That is why we are here.”
Watson added in his letter to protesters that residents are “exhausted″ and “on edge” due to the demonstrations and warns that some businesses are teetering on the brink of permanent closure because of the disruptions.
Police said that there were approximately 4,000 protestors by Saturday. A counterprotest was organized Sunday by frustrated Ottawa residents who tried to stop the trucks entering downtown.
Clayton Goodwin (45-year-old veteran of the military) was one of the counter-protesters. He said that it was now time for the residents to protest the demonstrations.
“I’m horrified that other veterans would be down there co-opting my flag, co-opting my service,” said Goodwin, who is the CEO of the Veterans Accountability Commission, a nonprofit advocacy group. “It’s a grift. Free city. We’re 92% vaccinated. We’re ready to support our businesses.”
Colleen Sinclair, another counter-protester, said the demonstrators have had enough time to have their discontent heard and need to move on — with police force, if it comes down to it.
“They’re occupiers. People are scared to go to work, too scared to leave their homes,” she said. “This is not how you get your voice heard. We want to ban domestic terrorists from our cities. Go home.”
Similar protest movements have occurred in the city on previous weekends. Residents were frustrated by the loud music and people milling about downtown.
“It just feels like I’m living in a different country, like I’m in the States,” said Shannon Thomas, a 32-year-old teacher. “It just makes me really sad to see all these people waving Canadian flags and acting like patriots when it’s really the most sad and embarrassing thing I’ve ever seen.”
Trudeau has so far rejected calls to use the military, but had said that “all options are on the table” to end the protests. 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.
Major-General Steve Boivin, commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, said Sunday that two of his special forces soldiers were supporting the protests in Ottawa and were in the “process of being released” from service. Boivin said the activity goes against the military’s values and ethics.
A judge ordered the end of the Windsor crossing blockade and Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared an emergency. This allows for fines up to 100,000 Canadian Dollars as well as imprisonment for those who illegally block roads and bridges.
The partial closing of the bridge began on February 7th and was severe enough that by midweek automakers had begun to shut down or reduce production. This came as the auto industry struggles to keep production running in light of shortages of computer chips due to pandemics and other supply chain disruptions.
“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.”
For the last four days, the 67-year old has supported the protest. She thanked the police for being patient.
A major border crossing for truck traffic between Surrey (British Columbia) and Blaine (Washington), was shut down Sunday. This came a day after Canadian authorities stated that a few vehicles broke through the police barricades, while a large crowd entered the area on foot.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Sunday afternoon four people had been arrested for “mischief” during the protest. Some protestors who stayed the night had left but they were not allowed to cross the border or use the roads.
The border blockade which began on January 29 in Coutts (Alberta), north of Sweet Grass (Maine) remained in effect. According to RCMP Cpl. Troy Savinkoff stated.
Savinkoff also stated that three excavators were taken into police custody and dismantled by officers.
“Had those made their way to the blockade, it would only have compounded the unfortunate situation we’re facing at the border,” he said.
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.
About 90% Canadian truckers have been vaccinated. Many trucker associations, as well big-rig owners and operators, denounced the protests. Trudeau could lift the ban because the U.S. also has the same vaccine rule that applies to truckers who cross the border.
Pandemic regulations have been stricter in Canada than they are in the U.S. However, Canadians generally 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.
Meanwhile, Biden, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt on Sunday ahead of the Super Bowl, struck a critical tone when asked about those likely to object to the mask mandate at the NFL championship game.
“I love how people talk about personal freedom,” he said. “If you’re exercising personal freedom, but you put someone else in jeopardy, their health in jeopardy, I don’t consider that being very good with freedom.”
Gillies reported in Toronto. This report was contributed by Gene Johnson and Ted Shaffrey, both Ottawa, Ontario, Associated Press reporters.