WINDSOR, Ont. (AP) — A judge on Friday ordered protesters at the Ambassador Bridge over the U.S.-Canada border to end the 5-day-old blockade that has disrupted the movement of goods between the two countries and forced the auto industry on both sides to roll back production.
Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz of the Ontario Superior Court said in a virtual hearing that the order will come into effect at 7 p.m. to give protesters time to leave.
Windsor police immediately warned that protesters blocking the streets could face arrest and their vehicles could be impounded.
The ruling came after a 4.5-hour hearing in which the City of Windsor and auto parts makers’ lawyers argued the blockade was causing undue economic harm to the city and region.
Supporters of the protesters, some of whom are truckers, argued an order would disrupt their right to peacefully protest vaccination mandates that hamper their ability to earn a living.
Since Monday, drivers mostly in vans have bottled up the bridge linking Windsor to Detroit. Hundreds more truckers have paralyzed downtown Ottawa over the past two weeks.
The decision came during a day of rapid developments as federal, provincial and local authorities moved simultaneously on different fronts in an attempt to break the so-called Freedom Convoy standoff.
“This illegal activity must stop and it will end,” Trudeau warned a few hours earlier.
“We heard you. It’s time to go home now,” the prime minister said, warning that “everything is on the table” to end the lockdowns.
Also on Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency and threatened heavy penalties for those who interfere with the free movement of goods and people.
Ford said he will convene the provincial cabinet on Saturday to urgently enact measures that make it “crystal clear” that it is illegal to block critical infrastructure. Violators face up to a year in prison and a maximum fine of $100,000, he said.
“There will be consequences for these actions, and they will be severe,” Ford said. “This is a pivotal and pivotal moment for our nation.”
The measures will also provide additional authority “to consider revoking the personal and business licenses of anyone who does not comply”, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Trudeau called Ontario’s decision “responsible and necessary” and said he had spoken to President Joe Biden about it.
See also: Biden says it’s ‘probably premature’ for states to drop face mask requirements as Nevada – including its casinos – becomes latest to do so
“We discussed American and even global influences on the protest,” Trudeau said. “We talked about the flooding of 911 phone lines in Ottawa, the presence of American citizens in the blockade, and the impact of foreign money to fund this illegal activity.”
Trudeau said that on some fundraising platforms, up to 50% of donations come from the United States
He said he and Biden agreed that “for the safety of people and the economy, these blockades cannot continue. So make no mistake: the border cannot and will not remain closed. »
Trudeau said he understands protesters are frustrated by the pandemic, but “these lockdowns hurt ordinary families, auto assembly workers, farmers, truckers, blue-collar Canadians.”
The protests have caused auto parts shortages that have forced General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Honda to close factories or cancel shifts.
Before the judge’s ruling was released, dozens of protesters in Windsor blocked the entrance to the bridge in what looked like a block party. Protesters moved around, carrying signs and Canadian flags – some on the ends of hockey sticks – as music played and food was handed out. A trampoline has been installed for the children.
Troy Holman, a 32-year-old Windsor resident who has been protesting every day this week, said he thinks the government has overstepped its bounds with its COVID-19 restrictions, which he says are hurting small business of his wife.
“Unfortunately we have to be here because that’s what will get the government’s attention,” he said.
The signs read “Freedom is Essential”, “Say No to Mandatory Vaccines” and “End Warrants”.
“We defend freedom. We believe everyone should personally decide what they inject into their body,” said protester Karen Driedger, 40, from Leamington. “We say, ‘Enough is enough.’ We need to get back to normal and live our lives again.
Authorities at various levels of government have been reluctant to forcibly evict protesters across the country, apparently reflecting a lack of local police manpower, Canada’s respect for free speech and the fears of violence. Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens warned earlier this week that some of the truckers were “ready to die”.
But the political pressure to reopen the bridge appeared to be mounting along with the economic toll.
The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest US-Canada border crossing, carrying 25% of all trade between the two countries. The standoff comes at a time when the auto industry is already struggling to maintain production in the face of pandemic-induced computer chip shortages and other supply chain disruptions.
“American lawmakers are freaking out, and rightly so,” said Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto. “The White House is now putting pressure on Trudeau to act more decisively.”
In addition to maintaining the bumper-to-bumper occupation of Ottawa, protesters closed three border crossings in all: at Windsor; at Coutts, Alberta, across from Montana; and in Emerson, Manitoba, across from North Dakota.
The Freedom Convoy has been promoted and encouraged by many Fox News personalities and has drawn right-wing support from former President Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Amid signs authorities may be ready to get tough, police in Windsor and Ottawa waited for reinforcements from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the federal police force.
The mayor of Ottawa has requested 1,800 additional police officers, which could nearly double the numbers available to the capital’s police force.
The protests have also spread outside of Canada. Protesters angry over pandemic restrictions headed for Paris in scattered convoys of motorhomes, cars and trucks on Friday in a bid to blockade the French capital, despite a police ban.
And in a bulletin to local and state law enforcement, the US Department of Homeland Security warned that truck protests could be underway across the United States. The agency said protests could begin in Southern California as early as this weekend and spread to Washington around the State of the Union address in March.
As Canadian protesters decry vaccination mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 restrictions, many of the country’s infection measures, such as mask rules and vaccination passports to enter restaurants and theaters, are already collapsing as omicron’s push levels off.
Pandemic restrictions have been much stricter in Canada than in the United States, but Canadians have largely supported them. The vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and the death rate from COVID-19 is one-third that of the United States.