Canada police in standoff with protesters blocking key bridge to U.S.
Canada was bracing for more protests against the government’s pandemic measures on Saturday, with the focus on the vital U.S.-Canada bridge that remained blocked by demonstrators defying a court order and emergency measures and disrupting the North American auto industry.
The “Freedom Convoy” protests, started in the national capital Ottawa by Canadian truckers opposing a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, entered its 16th day on Saturday.
Protests have spread to three border points, including the Ambassador Bridge, North America’s busiest land border crossing, where dozens of vehicles have crowded since Monday, choking the supply chain for Detroit’s carmakers.
Ford, the second-largest U.S. automaker, said on Friday it had temporarily halted work at its assembly plant in Ohio. General Motors and Toyota Motor also announced new production cuts. Companies have diverted cargo to stem losses amid production cuts.
A judge on Friday ordered an end to the Ambassador Bridge blockade, but some 100 protesters continued to occupy the bridge early on Saturday with trucks and pick-up vans, preventing the flow of traffic either way.
The Ontario government, which declared a state of emergency in the province on Friday, has threatened fines and jail for protesters if they do not leave.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has come under pressure from opposition party leaders to intervene, while U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration urged his government to use federal powers. Trudeau has promised Biden quick action to end the crisis.
Trudeau, after a call with Biden on Friday, said all options were on the table to end blockades, adding that the consequences were becoming “more and more severe.”
“We’ve heard your frustration with Covid, with the measures,” Trudeau told reporters, addressing the protesters’ concerns. “It’s time to go home now.”
East of Ottawa, people were expected to gather in Fredericton in the province of New Brunswick for a weekend demonstration. Local police said officers were stationed at entrances to the city to ensure traffic can continue. Canada’s financial capital Toronto was also bracing for more weekend demonstrations.
Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly said officers were on standby to begin enforcing the new laws and warned of consequences for law-breakers in anticipation of people joining the protesters over the weekend.
“The Ottawa police service is better equipped and better resourced to deal with this anticipated influx,” deputy police chief Steve Bell told city officials in a meeting.