WINDSOR, Ontario – Canadian officials are threatening protesters blocking the Ambassador Bridge with “severe” consequences, including fines, imprisonment and revoked licenses.
“Let me be as clear as I can: There will be consequences for these actions, and they will be severe,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Friday (Feb. 11).
You can watch Ford’s full news conference in the video above.
A convoy of truck drivers formed to protest the Canadian government’s mandate requiring everyone to be vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to cross the border into Canada. Friday marks the fifth day of demonstrations that have blocked traffic on the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor.
“Today, I’m using my authority as premier of Ontario to declare a state of emergency in our province, and I will convene cabinet to use legal authorities to urgently enact orders that will make crystal clear it is illegal and punishable to block and impede the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure,” Ford said.
Canadians have the right to peacefully protest when they disagree with governmental actions, but that doesn’t come without reasonable limits, the premier said.
“To those who’ve attempted to disrupt our way of life by targeting our lifeline for food, fuel and goods across our borders, to those trying to force a political agenda through disruption, intimidation and chaos, my message to you is this: Your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the rights of thousands of workers to earn their living,” Ford said. “It does not outweigh our right to get food across our borders.”
Ontario’s economy is built on trade, Ford said -- especially trade with the United States. The Ambassador Bridge accounts for more than $700 million of two-way trade every day.
“That trade employs hundreds of thousands of Ontarians who work in auto plants and factories across our great province,” Ford said. “Those jobs feed millions of families. They are the lifeline for our province and its economy, and while I appreciate the right to protest, that right cannot and must not extend to cutting off that lifeline.”
He condemned the “siege” on the city of Ottawa, calling it an illegal occupation that’s holding hundreds of thousands of people hostage.
“This is no longer a protest,” Ford said. “With a protest, you peacefully make your point and you go back home, and I know that the vast majority of the people did that. They came, they peacefully demonstrated, they made their point and they left. I want to say to those people: You’ve been heard loud and clear.”
Authorities have received permission from an Ontario court to freeze the funds from GiveSendGo, the crowdfunding service used by the “Freedom Convoy” demonstration.
By targeting the funding of the protesters, Ford said he hopes to end the blockade at the Ambassador Bridge peacefully. But the province is also strengthening its police force in case that’s needed to restore order.
Fines for protesters who don’t comply with Ford’s state of emergency will face a maximum penalty of $100,000 and up to a year behind bars, he said.
“We will also provide additional authority to consider taking away the personal and commercial licenses of anyone who doesn’t comply with these orders,” Ford said.
Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the initial declaration will be for 42 hours, and the cabinet will meet Saturday to go over further amendments.
“To the protesters, I say, ‘We’ve heard you, and it’s time to go,’” Ford said. “To the auto workers, truckers and all those affected by the Ambassador Bridge closure, I say, ‘We will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the border is reopened.’
“The trade problems that we would see if we didn’t clear the Ambassador Bridge would be unprecedented -- absolutely unprecedented.”
Gov. Whitmer: Reopen the bridge
“In Michigan, our economy continues to grow because of our hardworking people and innovative small businesses. Now, that momentum is at risk,” Whitmer said. “Commercial traffic is at a standstill at the Ambassador Bridge and heavily backed up at the Blue Water Bridge.”
Whitmer called it “imperative” that Canadian authorities figure out a way to end the blockage.
“The blockade is having a significant impact on Michigan’s working families who are just trying to do their jobs,” Whitmer said. “Our communities and automotive, manufacturing and agriculture businesses are feeling the effects. It’s hitting paychecks and production lines. That is unacceptable.
“The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest land border crossing in North America, used by tens of thousands of commuters and truck drivers carrying hundreds of millions of dollars of goods every day. Countless Michiganders rely on this daily flow of goods and people to get things done.”
Windsor mayor: Demonstrators ‘will be removed,’ if needed
“The individuals on site are trespassing on municipal property and, if need be, will be removed to allow for the safe and efficient movement of goods across the border,” Dilkens said.
He said he remains hopeful that a peaceful resolution will be reached, and additional resources are being deployed to negotiate and end to the four-day blockade.
“We can’t just let this lawlessness continue to happen. We respect that everyone has a right to protest. It’s a hallmark of democracy. That is OK. What is not OK is choking off the busiest border crossing between the United States and Canada and affecting tens of thousands of families and their ability to put food on their table.”
Dilkens said Windsor City Council authorized seeking an injunction from the superior court to end the occupation of the bridge.
“The economic harm that this occupation is having on international trade is not sustainable, and it must come to an end,” he said. “As you can expect, this news conference will serve as a clarion call to activists and protesters who may seek to reinforce the occupation to prevent the reopening of the Ambassador Bridge.”
He said the plan is to be in front of a superior court judge as soon as possible, hopefully sometime Thursday.
In the meantime, Windsor authorities won’t provide any additional details, for security purposes.
“To those who are thinking about joining the protest, let me just say this: You are not welcome here,” Dilkens said.
Truckers protesting vaccine mandate
The convoy began with a subset of truckers protesting Canada’s federal rule requiring everyone to be vaccinated for COVID-19 to return to Canada. Proof of vaccination has to be provided to cross the border.
But over the course of the demonstration, the protest has gone too far, according to the mayor.
“This has taken on a life of its own that is way above and beyond how the original trucker convoy movement started,” Dilkens said.
He said he has tried to put himself in the shoes of the demonstrators over the past couple of weeks and understand their perspective, but, “Sadly, I’m no further ahead in figuring this out.”
Dilkens called the convoy very much a “leaderless movement.”
“There are multiple parties who believe that they represent the group, when in fact, no one really represents this group,” Dilkens said. “The protesters themselves are not cohesive. There are certainly frustrating efforts by police to negotiate and be sensible through this and it just further exacerbates a problem when you’re trying to work sensibly to find a resolution, yet you have parties on the other side that will agree in the short-term and then change their mind quickly thereafter.”
‘Our fellow Canadians’
Dilkens said the right to peacefully protest is protected, but because the Ambassador Bridge represents one-third of the trade between Canada and the United States, action needs to be taken.
He said the occupation is having a “profound impact” on the economic wellbeing of both Canadian and American businesses and families.
“Let me just say this: This is a national crisis, and while I don’t agree with the individuals occupying the Ambassador Bridge, I do appreciate that they are our neighbors,” Dilkens said. “These are folks who have been so disturbed by the pandemic and impacted by the public health restrictions that they have been motivated to take such a dramatic step.”
He said it’s important to remember that the demonstrators are “our fellow Canadians” and they have a fundamental right to their views and their opinions.
“They don’t have a right to affect you or your family’s right to earn a living, and they’ve gone too far,” he said.
What happens next?
Dilkens said several times throughout the briefing that he hopes the protesters will leave the bridge voluntarily. But if that doesn’t happen, an injunction would give authorities the right to take matter into their own hands.
“Everyone wants to know, ‘When are you going to move in?’” Dilkens said. “We hope not to have to move in. We hope we can get the protesters to see the light of day and recognize that the easiest way out of this is for them to voluntarily get in their cars and drive away.”
He said sufficient law enforcement officials are available if it comes to that. They have already been alerted, just in case.
“We’re going to make sure we have the right number of people here to be able to enforce the injunction, and if we can’t gain compliance voluntarily, then other measures will have to be taken,” Dilkens said.
Michigan has also offered to send over heavy equipment to help remove vehicles and provide security, he said.
“They’ve offered to do whatever is required to help end this blockade, as well,” Dilkens said.
You can watch the full briefing from Dilkens below.