0433 GMT December 01, 2022
Television images showed police arresting the few protesters who remained just after dawn near the Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, Ontario – the busiest border crossing to the U.S., AP reported.
Only two pickup trucks and less than a dozen protesters blocked the road to the bridge before police moved in.
Police on Saturday had persuaded demonstrators to move their pickup trucks and other cars that they used at the entrance to the crossing that sees 25% of all trade between the two countries, though it remained closed.
In the capital, Ottawa, the ranks of protesters swelled to what police said was 4,000 demonstrators. The city has seen that on past weekends, and loud music played as people milled about downtown where anti-vaccine demonstrators have been encamped since late January.
The protests at the bridge, in Ottawa and elsewhere have reverberated outside the country, with similarly inspired convoys in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned that truck convoys may be in the works in the U.S.
An ex-cabinet minister in Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government took the unusual step of calling out her former federal colleagues as well as the province and city for not putting an end to the protests.
“Amazingly, this isn’t just Ottawa. It’s the nation’s capital,” Catherine McKenna tweeted. “But no one – not the city, the province or the federal government can seem to get their act together to end this illegal occupation. It’s appalling. ... Just get your act together. Now.”
Trudeau has so far rejected calls to use the military.
“The Prime Minister stressed that border crossings cannot, and will not, remain closed, and that all options are on the table,” Trudeau’s office said in a statement late Saturday after he met with senior officials. Trudeau has called the protesters a “fringe” of Canadian society.
Ottawa police said in a statement late Saturday that a joint command center had now been set up together with the Ontario Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They said that would beef up enforcement capabilities that had been limited by “safety concerns – arising from aggressive, illegal behavior by many demonstrators – limited police enforcement capabilities.”
Police earlier issued a statement calling the protest an unlawful occupation and saying they were waiting for reinforcements before implementing a plan to end the demonstrations.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency last week for the capital, where hundreds of trucks remained in front of the Parliament Buildings and demonstrators have set up portable toilets outside the prime minister’s office where Trudeau’s motorcade usually parks.
On Friday, a judge ordered an end to the blockade of mostly pickup trucks and cars, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency allowing for fines of 100,000 Canadian dollars and up to one year in jail for anyone illegally blocking roads, bridges, walkways and other critical infrastructure.
The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest U.S.-Canadian border crossing, carrying 25% of all trade between the two countries, and auto plants on both sides have been forced to shut down or reduce production this week. The standoff came at a time when the industry is already struggling to maintain production in the face of pandemic-induced shortages of computer chips and other supply-chain disruptions.
Protesters on Saturday tore down a fence that authorities put up around the capital’s National War Memorial two weeks ago after demonstrators urinated on it. Some later chanted, “liberté,” French for “freedom.”
“Completely unacceptable,” Lawrence MacAulay, Canada’s veterans affairs minister, tweeted. “This behavior is disappointing and I’m calling on protesters to respect our monuments.”
On the other side of the country, protesters disrupted operations at another border crossing between Surrey, British Columbia, and Blaine, Washington, but officials said it was not blocked. A border crossing in Alberta remained shut down as well.
While the protesters are decrying vaccine mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 restrictions, many of Canada’s public health measures, such as mask rules and vaccine passports for getting into restaurants and theaters, are already falling away as the Omicron surge levels off.
Pandemic restrictions have been far stricter there than in the U.S., but Canadians have largely supported them. The vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and the COVID-19 death rate is one-third that of the U.S.