WINDSOR, ONT. – On Saturday morning, police began moving in to remove Windsor protesters from the Ambassador Bridge area following days of disrupted travel and trade between the U.S. and Canada.
An Ontario judge gave protesters until 7 p.m. on Friday to clear the area or face being arrested -- but hours past that deadline, demonstrators in Windsor protesting against Canada’s COVID protocols hadn’t gone anywhere.
Here’s a roundup of our reports on the dayslong bridge blockade and the international impact it’s had.
“Get Caught Up” is ClickOnDetroit’s Saturday news review to help readers catch up on the biggest stories of the week.
Windsor police move in Saturday morning
Officials reported Saturday morning that Windsor police and their law enforcement partners have begun moving in to remove protesters from the area surrounding the Ambassador Bridge.
Police are reportedly asking individuals to leave peacefully, and are urging all demonstrators to “act lawfully.”
Premier Ford said Friday that he does not direct the police, the government just sets the laws and police enforce the laws, but that law enforcement had the government’s support to do whatever is necessary to clear the blockade. Windsor’s mayor sought an injunction from the courts allowing police to remove protesters end the blockade, which was granted Friday afternoon.
Many protesters began driving away as police approached shortly after dawn on Saturday. They had spent the night at the busiest crossing between the United States and Canada despite new warnings to end the blockade, which has disrupted the flow of goods between the two countries and forced the auto industry on both sides to roll back production.
With dozens of police around his car, a man with “Trump 2024″ and “Mandate freedom” spray-painted on his vehicle left without any resistance. Other protesters began dismantling a small tarp-covered encampment.
But three large trucks and about 20 protesters remained blocking traffic early Saturday and they began singing Canada’s national anthem.
A city bus and school bus arrived at the scene Saturday morning and police moved in formation toward them. One of the protesters used a megaphone to alert others that police were coming for the demonstrators, who are protesting against Canada’s COVID-19 mandates and restrictions. There is also an outpouring of fury toward Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Windsor Police & its policing partners have commenced enforcement at and near the Ambassador Bridge. We urge all demonstrators to act lawfully & peacefully. Commuters are still being asked to avoid the areas affected by the demonstrations at this time.— Windsor Police (@WindsorPolice) February 12, 2022
“The Windsor Police & its policing partners have commenced enforcement at and near the Ambassador Bridge. We urge all demonstrators to act lawfully & peacefully. Commuters are still being asked to avoid the areas affected by the demonstrations at this time,” police tweeted.
About 20 protesters huddled together while others remained in pickup trucks and cars as police asked drivers to leave. Tow trucks and ambulances were stationed near the protest.
“The illegal blockades are impacting trade, supply chains & manufacturing. They’re hurting Canadian families, workers & businesses. Glad to see the Windsor Police & its policing partners commenced enforcement at and near the Ambassador Bridge. These blockades must stop,” Federal Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne tweeted.
On Friday night, protesters in Windsor, near the international bridge that connects to Detroit, were told to leave by police following a court order.
As the evening progressed, protesters began to leave, but some stuck around. Protesters at one point began to converse with some of the police officers who were at the scene, but there didn’t appear to be any aggression between them.
The majority of protesters seemed to be residents of Windsor, and decided to call it a night at 11 p.m. The protesters who are visitors seemed to check themselves into hotels.
Then, there are the protesters who were still out way past the deadline, saying they will not leave the area and that they welcome getting arrested if necessary.
“It is so worth it, being arrested, because I believe in this cause 100%, and I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” one protester said. “I’ve always been a guy of beliefs, like standing up for my rights. If you don’t, they’ll be gone.”
Police had blocked off several streets throughout Windsor on Friday night. The only fast-food chain had also closed, meaning no food, coffee, or restroom use, which played a significant role in thinning out the crowd.
Ontario premier declares state of emergency to help end Ambassador Bridge blockade
Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Friday announced measures to help end the Ambassador Bridge blockade.
Ford spoke publicly at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Feb. 11, as demonstrations blocked traffic on the Ambassador Bridge for the fifth straight day.
“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.
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. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens are among the many stressing the importance of ending the blockade.
“My message is simple: Reopen traffic on the bridge,” Whitmer said Thursday. “In Michigan, our economy continues to grow because of our hardworking people and innovative small businesses. Now, that momentum is at risk. Commercial traffic is at a standstill at the Ambassador Bridge and heavily backed up at the Blue Water Bridge.”
Dilkens said he’s seeking an injunction that would allow him to end the “illegal occupation” of the bridge. He asked demonstrators to leave voluntarily, but added they will be forced off the bridge, if that’s what it comes to.
“We can’t just let this lawlessness continue to happen,” Dilkens said. 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.”
With the Ambassador Bridge blocked, travel to and from Canada from Michigan has been difficult. Heavy traffic at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron caused truck drivers to wait in miles-long lines.
Watch Premier Ford’s complete press conference below.
Canadian officials threaten ‘severe’ consequences for protesters blocking Ambassador Bridge
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,” Premier Ford said Friday.
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.”
Ambassador Bridge blockade taking its toll on automakers, Michigan’s economy
The ever-busy Ambassador Bridge was empty Friday night, devoid of the truck traffic usually seen seven days a week, which means that commerce in both directions is without more than $13 million an hour.
Protesters denouncing some of Canada’s COVID protocols have gathered in demonstrations throughout the country -- including in Windsor, where traffic across the international Ambassador Bridge has been disrupted for five days.
The disruption to trade is creating a problem for automakers, who are already struggling with parts and chip shortages.
“There are Michiganders who are hard-working simply want to show up to their job, and they’re out of work right now,” said Whitmer. “This is having a huge impact, and we are pushing on the Canadian government to resolve this swiftly and safely because every minute this goes on, it’s incredibly damaging to the economy and to our people.”
Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce President Sandy Baruah agrees with the governor.
“The supply chain is always incredibly fragile and has been exceptionally fragile during COVID, and this is the last thing the U.S. or Michigan economies need,” said Baruah.
On Friday, Ford Motor Co. announced plant closures for next week due to chip shortages.