The City of Windsor, Ont., is seeking an injunction to end the Ambassador Bridge blockade, as authorities try to get ahead of spiralling border protests that now cover three provinces.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said he hopes the Superior Court of Ontario will soon grant the injunction to end the “illegal” blockade, now in its fourth day, and restore traffic across Canada’s busiest link with the United States.
“This is a national crisis,” Mr. Dilkens said at a news conference on Thursday afternoon.
“The individuals on site are trespassing on municipal property and if need be will be removed to allow for the safe movement of goods across the border,” Mr. Dilkens said, declining to say when the court order might be granted.
Meanwhile, protesters have blocked a third Canadian border crossing, in Manitoba, and demonstrations are planned at a fourth this weekend, deepening the crisis at key trade routes and pushing businesses to the brink.
In Ottawa federal politicians were tight-lipped and declined to say whether any concrete plans are being put in place to end the barricades.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called them “unacceptable” on his way into the House of Commons on Thursday and said the protests are pushing grocery prices even higher, jeopardizing jobs and throwing supply chains into disarray.
“This is hurting communities across the country. That’s why I’ve been working closely with municipal leaders, with all of our partners,” Mr. Trudeau said. “We’re going to continue to do what’s necessary to end these barricades.”
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said additional RCMP officers are being sent to the blockades in Windsor and Ottawa.
Asked what the plan is to end the blockades, Mr. Mendicino said it’s to ensure the police have the resources they need.
“Our top priority is to make sure that these illegal blockades end,” he said, “It’s to make sure that we can get trade and travel going again. That is going to be our unwavering focus.”
Overnight Wednesday, protesters blocked the border crossing at Emerson, Man. On Thursday, RCMP in Manitoba said a large number of vehicles and farm equipment were stopping traffic in both directions.
“No traffic is getting through either northbound or southbound,” the RCMP wrote in a social media statement. “The port of entry is shut down.”
A video posted to Facebook showed a large digital sign beside the road with rolling text saying: “Prepare to stop, border crossing closed until mandates are lifted.”
For almost two weeks protesters have intermittently blocked the border crossing at Coutts, Alta., and since Monday another blockade has shut down the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor, Ont., to Detroit, to all commercial traffic in both directions. The bridge is Canada’s most critical trade route to the U.S., carrying about one quarter of all trade between the two countries.
Police are now also monitoring a fourth border protest planned for the Peace Bridge, which connects Fort Erie, Ont., to Buffalo.
A U.S. group that says it was launched to support the trucker convoy in Canada said on its website that two convoys will converge in Buffalo on Saturday. They plan to hold a rally at the Peace Bridge, which their website notes is one of the “most trafficked border crossings.”
The Niagara Regional Police Service said it is aware of the planned protest. Constable Philip Gavin said the force had no other statement except to say it will be “monitoring to ensure participant and community safety, as is the case in all demonstrations and protests.”
The blockade at the Ambassador Bridge is forcing traffic to divert to other bridges, resulting in higher shipping costs, long delays and shortages in goods that are already leading companies to slash shifts.
On Thursday, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer called for Canada to reopen the bridge to traffic.
“It is imperative that Canadian local, provincial and national governments de-escalate this economic blockade. They must take all necessary and appropriate steps to immediately and safely reopen traffic,” she said, noting the protests are already affecting auto production in her state.
So far the federal government has said the responsibility for managing the protest rests with local police.
In Windsor, Mr. Dilkens said in addition to the extra police coming from the RCMP, the OPP are also sending more officers to aid in the possible enforcement of the court order. He said he is hopeful a peaceful resolution will be achieved.
“If we can’t gain compliance voluntarily then other measures will have to be taken,” Mr. Dilkens said.
At a Wednesday news conference in Windsor, Mayor Drew Dilkens had warned that arresting the demonstrators at the Ambassador Bridge and towing their vehicles could lead to violence. Some have said they are “willing to die” for their cause, Mr. Dilkens said. The protesters are calling for an end to all pandemic lockdowns and restrictions imposed by federal and provincial governments.
The crossing at Coutts is critical to Canada’s trade in cattle, beef and produce. The Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters Association says the crossing usually sees $44-million per day in two-way trade.
The protests began in Ottawa with a convoy of trucks and vehicles driving to the capital from across the country more than two weeks ago. The protesters said they were opposed to the vaccine mandate imposed by the federal government on cross-border truckers. However, their cause has snowballed into a broader anti-government protest and includes opposition to all pandemic restrictions.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance has condemned the protests since the start and on Thursday said in a statement that the blockades are “impairing the hard work of truck drivers who continue to keep our essential goods moving.”
“Many of those who are protesting having their lives disrupted by certain policies are, in turn, ironically disrupting the lives of their fellow Canadians,” president Stephen Laskowski said.
“The only people who these blockades hurt are the hard-working Canadians who have kept our nation moving.”
In southern Alberta, where the original border blockade emerged Jan. 29 on Highway 4, protesters are blocking access to and from the U.S. at Coutts. About 15 tractors, 15 recreational vehicles, 45 commercial vehicles, and a number of personal vehicles remained at the original protest site Thursday, according to RCMP Supt. Roberta McKale.
About 14 kilometres north of the original site, at a police barricade just south of Milk River, about 130 passenger vehicles, 24 commercial vehicles, nine tractors, and some campers were crowding the highway, she said.
“People have normalized this,” Supt. McKale said. said. “It is not normal to have an unlawful protest in Canada.”
The RCMP established a legal and safe protest area in a field near Milk River, but none of the protesters have moved to this location, she said. Officers issued nine tickets at the northern protest site, she said, but declined to provide details on the offences. Officers are also sending tickets by mail to the registered owners of some of the vehicles participating in the Milk River protest, she said.
“Don’t come here. Have a lawful protest somewhere else,” she said.
With reports from the Globe’s Carrie Tait and a report from Reuters.
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