Police arrest remaining protesters at the US-Canada Bridge
Windsor, Ontario — The police came to evacuate and arrest themnear the busiest U.S.-Canadian border crossing on Sunday, ending a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions that has hurt both nations’ economies even as they refrained from cracking down on a larger protest in the capital Ottawa.
Local and national police have formed a joint command center in Ottawa, where protests have paralyzed downtown, enraged residents fed up with police inaction and put pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The protests have resonated across the country and beyond, with similar convoys in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands. The US Department of Homeland Securitythat truck convoys could be in the works in the United States.
The Biden administration thanked Canada for clearing the protesters, and White House homeland security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall said in a statement that the US “stands ready to assist our Canadian partners wherever that is reasonable.” to ensure the restoration of normal free flow of trade can resume.”
Windsor police said about 12 were peacefully arrested and seven vehicles were towed away shortly after sunrise near the Ambassador Bridge, which connects their town – and numerous Canadian car plants – to Detroit.
Few protesters remained after police persuaded protesters on Saturday to move their pickup trucks and other cars, which they were using to block an intersection where 25% of all trade between the two countries takes place.
In Ottawa, protesters swelled to 4,000 on Saturday, police said. The city has seen similar expansions over the past few weekends, and loud music was played as people milled around downtown, where anti-vaccination protesters have camped since late January.
“The whole town is angry at being abandoned by the people who are supposed to protect us. They have completely abandoned the rule of law. @OttawaPolice has lost credibility. #OttawaPoliceFailed,” tweeted Artur Wilczynski, a senior government security official at Canada’s Communications Security Establishment.
A former minister in Trudeau’s cabinet has also blasted her former federal counterparts, as well as the province and city, for failing to end 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 pull together to end this illegal occupation. It’s horrible. … Just bring yourself together. Now.”
Trudeau has so far dismissed calls for the military to be deployed but said “all options are on the table” to end protests that have slowed industries on both sides of the border. Trudeau has described the protesters as “the fringes” of Canadian society. Both federal and provincial politicians have said they cannot tell police what to do.
Ottawa Police said in a statement late Saturday that a joint command center had been established with Ontario Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They said it would bolster enforcement capabilities, which have been constrained by “security concerns – arising from aggressive, illegal behavior by many protesters – limited police enforcement capabilities”.
Police earlier issued a statement calling the protest an unlawful occupation and saying they were waiting for reinforcements before implementing a plan to end the demonstrations.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson last week declared a state of emergency for the capital, where hundreds of trucks have stopped outside the Houses of Parliament and protesters have set up portable toilets outside the prime minister’s office, where Trudeau’s motorcade normally parks.
Even after protesters’ vehicles were removed early Saturday, hundreds more came to bolster the crowd and engaged in a duel with police about two blocks away, waving flags and shouting.
On Friday, a judge ordered an end to the blockade of mainly pickup trucks and cars, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency, which allowed fines of CA$100,000 and up to a year in prison for anyone illegally crossing roads, bridges , sidewalks and other critical infrastructure.
The partial closures at the bridge began on February 7, and by midweek the disruption was so severe that automakers began to halt or reduce production. The standoff came at a time when the industry is already struggling to keep production amid pandemic-related shortages of computer chips and other supply chain disruptions.
“We are protesting against the government taking away our rights,” said Eunice Lucas-Logan from Windsor. “We want the restrictions to be lifted. We’ll have to wait to find out.”
The 67-year-old has been supporting the protest for four days. She said she appreciated the police being patient.
In Ottawa, Stephanie Ravensbergen, 31, said she came to support her aunt and uncle, who have parked their tractor-trailer on the street since the protest began. She opposes vaccination and mask requirements and said it’s important for school children to be able to see their friends’ faces and emotions.
“We want the right to vote,” Ravensbergen said. “We want the right to do what everyone else can do.”
On the other side of the country, a key truck crossing between Surrey, British Columbia and Blaine, Washington was closed on Sunday, a day after Canadian authorities said some vehicles had breached police barricades and a crowd entered the area on foot.
The RCMP issued a statement saying no one was injured but the actions were dangerous and were being investigated.
A border crossing in Alberta also remained closed.
As protesters denounce vaccination mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 restrictions, many of Canada’s public health measures, like mask rules and vaccination cards for entry into restaurants and theaters, are already falling away as the omicron surge slows.
Pandemic restrictions have been far tighter there than in the US, but Canadians have largely supported them. The vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and the COVID-19 mortality rate is one-third that of the United States.