Reuters/ Windsor (Ontario)
A standoff between Canadian police and protesters blocking a key bridge to the United States continued yesterday, more than seven hours after authorities moved in seeking to end the blockade of the important trade corridor.
Demonstrators opposing the government’s strict pandemic restrictions have occupied the Ambassador Bridge for the fifth straight day, snarling international trade and prompting President Joe Biden to call for an end to the siege. But there was still no sign when traffic would resume.
The Ambassador Bridge, North America’s busiest land border crossing, had no traffic flowing for the fifth straight day by Saturday afternoon. About 15 trucks, cars and vans blocked traffic in both directions, choking the supply chain for Detroit’s carmakers.
“We urge all demonstrators to act lawfully & peacefully,” Windsor Police said in a Twitter post, asking commuters to avoid the areas affected by the demonstrations. The police action came more than 12 hours after a court order to ended the blockade came into effect.
Police in black uniforms with yellow vests moved behind the protesters’ vehicles and, accompanied by police cruisers, slowly advanced on protesters, pushing them back from the bridge entrance. The number of demonstrators had thinned to roughly two dozen early yesterday from about 200 on Friday night. “We are opening up this intersection to traffic. If you fail to comply with our instructions you will be arrested,” police told the crowd via a loudspeaker.
Protesters were seen moving back in a noisy but peaceful retreat, dismantling tents and barbecues. While police have successfully pushed back protesters from the foot of the Ambassador Bridge, many more people were streaming into the area. The “Freedom Convoy” protests, started in the capital Ottawa by Canadian truckers opposing a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, entered its 16th day yesterday. It has morphed into a wider protest against Covid-19 curbs, with people joining in with smaller vehicles, including cars, vans and pick-up trucks.
Ottawa Police said yesterday they were waiting for reinforcements to end the “unlawful occupation.” Ontario Premier Doug declared a state of emergency starting Friday midnight, but demonstrators “exhibited aggressive behaviour towards law enforcement,” police said. Protesters in Ottawa also tore down a fence that had been put around the National War Memorial yesterday.
Canadian police have said the protests have been partly funded by US supporters and Ontario froze funds donated via one US platform, GiveSendGo, on Thursday. Toronto-Dominion Bank has frozen two personal bank accounts into which C$1.4mn ($1.1mn) had been deposited in support of the protesters, a spokesperson said yesterday.
Protests have spread to three border points: the Ambassador Bridge, strangling trade between the two countries, and two smaller crossings in Alberta and Manitoba.
In Canada’s financial capital Toronto, police blocked main roads leading to the central business district, ahead of a planned protest yesterday. Protests were also planned in Fredericton in the province of New Brunswick. Local police said officers were stationed at entrances to the city to ensure traffic can flow freely.
A convoy of motorists in the United States is planning to head to the waterfront in Port Huron, Michigan, in support of protesters in Canada. Another US group said two separate vehicle convoys will converge this weekend at the Peace Bridge, another US-Canadian border crossing in Buffalo, New York.
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