Nightcam’s Tim Pamplin reflects on the week of covering Windsor blockade

Tim Pamplin and Priya Mann in Windsor. (WDIV)

I have to hand it to you, Windsor. Sure, Canada has a reputation of being friendly and welcoming. Having covered the Windsor blockade since its inception last Monday when a half dozen or so drivers took a stand on Huron Church Rd.

Canadian truck drivers were stranded tantalizingly close to the Blue Water Bridge, sleeping in their non-sleeper equipped vehicles on the side of I-94 in Adair, Michigan. All the overnight truck stops were full.

CDL drivers can be behind the wheel for 11 hours a day. Things got uncomfortable for many, frustrating for others. How did they balance their industry being the catalyst of their current situation? Many agreed with the cause, not so much the blockade.

With the Ambassador Bridge closed all truck traffic was rerouted over the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron.

Most truckers are paid by the mile, not the minute. With 10 mile back ups on I-94 and 12 mile back ups on I-69 (equaling 8 hour traffic jams), they were losing money and time with their families.

The protests, and associated road closures, most certainly inconvenienced many on both sides of the border. The closure of the Ambassador Bridge was hitting at the heart of the US/Canadian economies. This wasn’t going to be allowed to last for long.

With Friday’s injunction in hand, the various law enforcement agencies gave the protestors ample time to clear the blockade.

Priya Mann joined me in Windsor on Saturday. We spent the daylight hours talking with and interviewing the protesters. Priya, a Canadian, was at home, both literally and figuratively.

Tim Pamplin and Priya Mann in Windsor. (WDIV)

The countless Canadian police officers encountered along the way, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ontario Provincial Police, and the Windsor Police Department, were cordial and professional. They were all sympathetic, even apologetic not only towards the press, but also the protestors. Some police officers telling me (off camera) that they agree with the protesters claims of governmental overreach.

There was the 70-year-old Chinese woman standing in front of one of the RCMP armored personal carriers, tears rolling down her cheeks, recounting 1989 and the Tiananmen Square protests. The protesters stood face to face with a long line of police officers that stretched across the entire eight lanes of Huron Church Road.

There were a couple of protestors who felt these officers, in this line, were fair game for some vitriol. I spoke with many of these officers and I got the impression that while they may agree with the protestors ethical position, they also realized the importance of law and order. They, along with the Canadian truckers stranded along I-94, had some philosophical juggling to do.

I had parked our live truck at the the intersection of HCR and Tecumseh Roads. A second line of protesters had this intersection closed. This was one mile south of the front line. My iPhone health app was happy " GOOD JOB!” the notification said. Apparently I had walked thirteen miles back and forth Saturday. My various bits of TV equipment needed regular recharging meaning many trips back and forth to my truck.

Related: Ambassador Bridge reopens after week of protests in Windsor

Saturday was a brisk day with temps in the lower 20′s. As night fell, so did the temperature, and the number of protestors. I theorized that if the protestor numbers reached 20-30 that the police would simply go in and arrest them one by one.

Job one after the late news was to find a parking spot closer to the front line. My body and TV kit needed to have quick access.

By 1 a.m., we had relocated out front of 1005 Dot Avenue, it was as close to the front line as non-law enforcement vehicles could get. We were in position and ready for any enforcement action.

By 5 a.m., there were about twelve protestors. A couple of them laying in the road inside sleeping bags. The number of police officers was growing. Surely with a dozen cold and sleepy protesters, the officers could pick them off, tow the two remaining picks ups and call it a day.

I let an old friend, Sean O’Shea, from Canadian GlobalTV, know to join us at the Dot Avenue location before access was locked down. He and his photographer, Patrick, Priya and I were in position. There’s a rule in the news business, once you’re in the “hot zone” you should not leave or you’ll never get back in.

We did several live hits for the morning show. Our hours of talking with officers at the Dot Avenue access had given us some insight into how things would play out.

Sunday, 8:15am, saw the arrival of that moment.

A flank of officers stretched across the 8 lane road and started moving south towards the handful of protesters and the 2 remaining protester pick ups. A flank of officers stretched across the 8 lane road and started moving north towards the handful of protesters and the 2 remaining protester pick ups.

As the vice grip of officers was tightening, several protesters ran to wherever they could to escape imminent arrest. Those not quick enough, or maybe ok with arrest, were swiftly taken into custody. The men in the pick up trucks, were pulled out and cuffed.

Sunday 10 a.m., the front line at HCR and College was gone. The officers then focused on the secondary line a little further up HCR.

This group of vehicles included a semi tractor, a five-wheel camper, pick ups and cars - there were about 15 protesters here and they had all watched the effective disposal of the front line in front of them. With the previous two police lines merged into a single huge line, marching towards them, the protesters all fired up their vehicles, with horns blaring, wheels screeching, diesel engines screaming and producing copious amounts of obnoxious black exhaust smoke- skedaddled. The second blockade was history.

Law enforcement had retaken the highway leading to and from the Ambassador Bridge.

I was told in the wee hours of Sunday morning by one of the officers at our Dot Avenue location that he didn’t expect HCR to be fully open until mid week. “The last thing we want is to clear the area and have protesters close it right back down again.”

There was this nagging feeling that this isn’t the end. Maybe just the beginning.

I flash back to Monday evening, and the handful of protesters that initiated the blockade, “I can’t believe we’re actually doing this,” one commented on her Facebook live stream.

There was no tear gas, no rubber bullets, no banging on riot shields, very little tension or mano a mano verbal attacks . The Windsor Blockade had a festive feel. It was handled in a way that I doubt it would not have occurred in the USA. Imagine if protesters closed I-75 at Vernor or Clark St. I shudder to think how that would play out.

Thank you, Windsor, for your hospitality, kindness, and professionalism over the last week.


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