Canada’s border protests ease, but still blocking bridge

The tension at the Ambassador Bridge, linking Detroit and Windsor in Ontario was eased by Canadian police who persuaded demonstrators that they were moving the trucks used to block the entry to the busy international crossing.

More reinforcements were provided by Canadian police, but protestors remained nearby and blocked access to the Canadian side. They hampered commerce and traffic for six days and continued blocking access to Canada’s border. About 180 remained late Saturday in the sub-freezing cold.

In Ottawa, the ranks of protesters swelled to what police said was 4,000 demonstrators. On past weekends, the city witnessed loud music as protesters gathered in downtown Ottawa. They have been there since January.

On Saturday night, concrete traffic barriers were constructed by crews behind the line of officers who spanned the highway from Windsor to the Ambassador Bridge. Later, officers removed the barricades that separated them and protesters. Some streets had side streets also surrounded by barricades. These streets were blocked by police vehicles. The protests that took place at Ottawa’s bridge and other locations have been echoed outside of the country with similar convoys from France, New Zealand, and the Netherlands. In addition, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has warned that there may be truck convoys headed for the United States.

An ex-Cabinet minister in Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government took the unusual step of calling out 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. Catherine McKenna tweets, “It’s the country’s capital.” But no one, not the federal government or the provincial governments can get together and end the illegal occupation. It’s appalling. Get your act together. Now.”

Trudeau has so far rejected calls to use the military.

” The Prime Minister stressed the need for border crossings to be open and said that they would not. Trudeau’s office released a statement on Saturday, after meeting with top officials.

Trudeau has called the protesters a “fringe” of Canadian society, and both federal and provincial leaders say they can’t order police what to do.

” Safety concerns — which arose from aggressive, unlawful behavior by many demonstrators — limited law enforcement capabilities,” Ottawa police stated in a statement on Saturday.

Ottawa Police stated that a joint command centre had been established with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Police had earlier released a statement calling protests an illegal occupation. They said they are waiting for “reinforcements” from police before making a plan to stop the demonstrations.

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.

Surrounded by dozens of officers in Windsor, a man with “Mandate Freedom” and “Trump 2024” spray-painted on his vehicle left the bridge entrance early in the day as others began dismantling a small, tarp-covered encampment. A trucker honked his horn as he, too, drove off, to cheers and chants of “Freedom!”

But hundreds more arrived to bolster the crowd and settled into a faceoff with police about two blocks away, waving flags and yelling. Despite no physical clashes between the two groups, traffic was not resuming at the bridge as the night ended.

Windsor police tweeted that no one had been arrested 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!”

Protester Daniel Koss said shortly before police advanced that the demonstration had succeeded in bringing attention to demands to lift COVID-19 mandates and he was happy it remained peaceful.

“It is a win-win situation,” Koss stated. The pandemic is in full swing right now. They can take away all mandates and everybody’s happy. The government does the right thing, and the protesters are all happy.”

The previous day, a judge ordered an end to the blockade of mostly pickup trucks and cars, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency allowing for fines of 100,000 Canadian dollars and up to one year in jail for anyone illegally blocking roads, bridges, walkways and other critical infrastructure. The illegal blocksades have a negative impact on trade, manufacturing and supply chains. These illegal blockades are affecting Canadian workers, families and businesses. Francois-Philippe Champagne, Federal Innovation Minister, tweeted Saturday that he was glad to see Windsor Police and its partners begin enforcement at the Ambassador Bridge. “These blockades must stop.”

The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest U.S.-Canadian border crossing, carrying 25% of all trade between the two countries, and auto plants on both sides have been forced to shut down or reduce production this week. This standoff occurred at a moment when industry is struggling to keep production running in light of shortages of computer chip and other disruptions.

In Ottawa, 31-year-old Stephanie Ravensbergen said she turned out to support her aunt and uncle who have parked their semi in the streets since the beginning of the protest. She opposed the use of vaccines and other masks and believes it is important that schoolchildren can see and feel their classmates’ emotions.

” We want to have the freedom of choice,” Ravensbergen stated. “We want the right to be able to do what everybody else can do.”

Protesters on Saturday tore down a fence that authorities put up around the capital’s National War Memorial two weeks ago after demonstrators urinated on it. Some later chanted “liberte,” French for “freedom.”

“Completely unacceptable,” Lawrence MacAulay, Canada’s veterans affairs minister, tweeted. “This behavior is disappointing and I’m calling on protesters to respect our monuments.”

On the other side of the country, protesters disrupted operations at another border crossing between Surrey, British Columbia, and Blaine, Washington, but officials said it was not blocked. The border crossings in Alberta and Manitoba 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 regulations have been much stricter in Canada than they are in the U.S. but Canadians support them. The vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and the COVID-19 death rate is one-third that of the United States.

Inspired by the Canadian demonstrations, protests against pandemic restrictions were seen in parts of Europe on Saturday.

At least 500 vehicles in several convoys attempted to enter Paris at key arteries but were intercepted by police. Over 200 motorists were ticketed, and elsewhere at least two people were detained amid a seizure of knives, hammers and other objects in a central square.

Police used tear gas to disperse a few protestors on Champs Elysees Avenue against an order. Police struggled with controlling the crowd when a police officer hit an Associated Press photographer in the head.

An assortment of trucks, including tractors and cars towing campers, arrived at The Hague to block the entrance to The Hague’s historic parliamentary building. On foot, protesters joined them carrying banners that read “Love and freedom, no dictatorship” (in Dutch).

Earlier in the week, demonstrators marched up to New Zealand’s Parliament buildings in a group of trucks and cars. After initial efforts to expel them led to physical confrontations, police have opted for a more passive approach.

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Householder reported from Windsor, and Gillies from Toronto. Ted Shaffrey contributed to this story from Ottawa, Ontario. This story was contributed by Thomas Adamson, Paris, and Nick Perry, Wellington, New Zealand.

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