Police were making progress in their bid to clear a week-long blockade by a group of truckers and anti-lockdown demonstrators at a crucial US-Canada border crossing on Saturday, with large trucks opting to leave the area peacefully.
The Ambassador Bridge, the busiest border crossing in North America, remained closed on Saturday afternoon due to a small group of anti-vaccine mandate protesters, with other cars and pick-up trucks turning up to join them. The bridge connects Windsor, Ontario with Detroit, Michigan.
Drew Dilkens, the mayor of Windsor, said “[police] have started the enforcement, they are going to continue until they finish it, the goal is to have people move out peacefully”. He said if the protesters refused to “move out peacefully” the police would “do what is needed to be done . . . so we can reopen this border crossing”.
He added: “This is no longer just about vaccine mandates and mask mandates, this is more to do with an anti-government protest and it is leaderless.”
Dilkens said daily trade across the Ambassador Bridge was C$400mn (US$314mn), with crossings by 8,000-10,000 trucks.
On Saturday morning, lorry drivers had driven away without resistance after police moved in. Earlier they had shouted “shame” and “freedom” as a police line advanced.
The protesters, part of the “Freedom Convoy” that has occupied Ottawa, Canada’s capital, for two weeks, had defied warnings to end the blockade by spending the night at the border.
What began as a narrow demonstration against a requirement that truck drivers needed to be vaccinated to cross the Canada-US border has swelled into a vast, foreign-funded anti-government protest. Justin Trudeau, the centre-left prime minister, has become the main target of the protesters’ anger.
As well as blocking the Ambassador Bridge, demonstrators, whose demands range from easing Covid-19 restrictions to the overthrow of Trudeau’s government, have laid siege to Ottawa and continue to clog traffic at another crucial border crossing in Coutts, Alberta. The self-styled “Freedom Convoy” does not have the support of trade unions representing truckers.
On Friday, a judge ordered an end to the blockade, while Doug Ford, premier of Ontario, declared a state of emergency, threatening those that block roads and bridges with C$100,000 fines and a year in jail. Police moved in on Saturday morning, once the court-mandated deadline of Friday 7pm had passed.
The Ambassador Bridge supports more than a quarter of trade between Canada and the US, prompting concern from the White House about supply chain disruptions. This week, US president Joe Biden asked Trudeau’s government to use federal powers to end the blockade. On Friday, the Canadian leader said he was not seriously considering deploying the army.
Manufacturers have already suffered from supply chain issues. On Friday, Ford, the US’s second-largest carmaker said it had stopped work at its Ohio assembly plant, while Toyota and General Motors announced production cuts.
Thousands of anti-vaccine mandate protesters descended on Ottawa at the end of January, where some 400 trucks have blocked streets in front of parliament for a fortnight. The protesters had erected a stage, a big screen, a bar tent, kitchens, bouncy castles and a hot tub. The hooting of vehicle horns has continued despite an injunction against it, issued by a judge last week.
The protests have won the backing of high-profile figures on the American right, including former president Donald Trump, and have inspired similar actions in France, New Zealand, the US and Australia.