Canada police clear key border bridge but protests still crippling Ottawa
Canadian police on Sunday cleared a key U.S. border bridge occupied by protesters led by truckers angry over Covid-19 restrictions, towing vehicles and making “several” arrests as they seek to quell a movement that has also brought downtown to a standstill. from Ottawa.
“Today, our national economic crisis on the Ambassador Bridge came to an end,” said Drew Dilkens, mayor of Windsor, Ontario, in a statement. “Border crossings will reopen when it is safe to do so.”
US officials, who had pushed for a quick resolution when lockdowns hit auto industries in both countries, praised what they called the “decisive” action at Windsor and said they hoped the bridge would open by the end of the day.
White House national security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall said US and Canadian officials recognized “the imperative to take swift and forceful action and deter future blockades.”
A strong police cordon continued to protect the area on Sunday afternoon, with protesters still close by and police indicating more arrests would be made.
The demonstrations have inspired copycat protests around the world, including in France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand, with some US truckers discussing a protest in March.
On Sunday, with thousands of protesters still paralyzing the center of the federal capital, Ottawa, Canada’s minister of public safety and emergency preparedness indicated that patience was running out.
“Enough is enough,” Bill Blair told the CBC. “This has to come to an end. The situation in Ottawa is unacceptable and intolerable, and the police need to restore order and enforce the law in that city.”
He said the border closures were having “an enormous impact” on Canadian workers and businesses.
Blair said the federal government, working with the provinces, was prepared to do “whatever it takes to get the situation back under control.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stressed that “this conflict must end”, but has faced mounting criticism for not acting more decisively.
Windsor police began their operation on Saturday to clear the main border crossing into the US city of Detroit, Michigan.
Initially, no arrests were made and drivers were warned they would potentially face significant fines, jail time and the loss of their licenses if they continued to block traffic, but some stood their ground.
Early Sunday morning, as pressure mounted to end the standoff, Windsor Police deployed a large contingent of officers after warning on Twitter that “there will be zero tolerance for illegal activity.”
They were seen handcuffing at least one bridge protester.
“Several arrests were made,” they said in a statement. “All of the people arrested face a charge of mischief.”
Amid widespread criticism over the time it took to clear the vital transit point, which transports 25 per cent of all goods exported by both countries, Windsor police defended their “progressive approach”.
“This exercise of police discretion,” the statement said, “should not be confused with non-enforcement.”
Truckers met in Ottawa two weeks ago to demand an end to the vaccination requirement affecting truckers crossing the international border.
But their demands have grown. Protesters are now seeking an end to all vaccine mandates, whether imposed by the federal or provincial governments.
Ottawa police estimated on Saturday that some 4,000 protesters were still occupying the city.
The atmosphere among the protesters has been festive, with music, dancing and the constant sound of air horns, but the noise, obstruction and sometimes rude and aggressive behavior of the protesters has damaged area businesses and angered many locals.
There was a glimmer of hope for frustrated residents: the Ottawa City Council reported a possible deal with one of the protest organizers to move the trucks out of residential areas and onto the street next to Parliament.
However, the potential deal between Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and protest organizer Tamara Lich still needs truckers’ approval.
The truckers’ message has resonated more widely across the country than authorities expected.
An opinion poll found that a third of Canadians support the protest movement.
Truckers have also found support among conservatives and vaccine mandate opponents around the world, even as Covid measures are being rolled back in many places.
In Paris on Saturday, police fired tear gas and issued more than 300 fines in an effort to dismantle convoys of vehicles coming from all over France.
An estimated 10,000 Australian protesters marched through the capital Canberra to denounce vaccine mandates, while in Wellington, New Zealand, campaigners against the mandate camped out near parliament for days.
Source Credit: TheGuardian