Protesters Defy Order to Open Bridge Between Ontario and Michigan
Hours after a court ordered demonstrators to stop blocking access to the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario, protesters were still there late Friday night, but in lesser numbers. Police officers were standing by but had made no move to clear the area of demonstrators.
The injunction from Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz of the Ontario Superior Court was meant to open a way for traffic to move freely across the bridge, which carries roughly a third of U.S.-Canada trade, and which has been blocked for days by protesters.
The court ruling, which took effect at 7 p.m., was part of a flurry of legal activity Friday as officials struggled to contain protests that began in Ottawa two weeks ago, when loosely organized groups of truck drivers and others converged on the capital to protest vaccination requirements for truckers entering Canada. The demonstrations have swelled into a broader battle cry, largely from right-wing groups, against pandemic restrictions and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s handling of the pandemic.
The protesters have blocked roads leading to the U.S. border at four points — Windsor; Sarnia, Ontario; Emerson, Manitoba; and Coutts, Alberta.
On Friday evening in Windsor, as the hour for the court order to take effect approached, police cars were seen arriving at a staging area near the blockade. The scene resembled a party, with fireworks, music and a chorus of “freedom” shouts in response to honks. Police officers handed out notices warning that a state of emergency declared by Ontario would take effect at midnight, and that protesters who impeded traffic could be fined or sentenced to prison.
By 11 p.m., the crowd’s numbers had thinned considerably, but there was still a solid knot of protesters blocking access to the bridge. Side streets were blocked off by police vehicles. Music was still blaring from a sound system, but the scene was mostly subdued.
Lori-Jean Hamilton Nugent, a Windsor resident who works in the retail sector, said she would comply with the court injunction.
“We won’t resist,” she said. “That’s the whole thing. Don’t resist. Don’t cause problems. Go say your piece. We’ll find another way, there’ll be another day. It’s not going to end with them breaking up this one crowd. It’s too much across Canada — across the world. Like everybody woke up and said, ‘Yeah, these truckers are right.’”
She added: “And that’s what I think we all have to realize is that we want freedom, we’d better fight now because if we don’t fight now, we might not have it in another week.”
On Friday, the city of Ottawa filed a request for an injunction to subdue the protests there, as city officials braced for an influx of more demonstrators this weekend.
Earlier in the day, Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, declared the state of emergency for the province, and the police in Ottawa braced for thousands of protesters to arrive for a third consecutive weekend.
If protesters do not leave peacefully, “there will be consequences, and they will be severe,” Mr. Ford said, adding, “Your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the right of thousands of workers to make a living.”
He said the maximum penalty for noncompliance with provincial orders would be $100,000 and a year in prison, plus potentially the revocation of personal and commercial licenses.
Mr. Trudeau weighed in on the crisis on Friday, saying that the best outcome would be for the protesters to “decide for themselves that they’ve been heard, that they have expressed their frustrations and disagreements, and that it is now time to go home.”
But because they haven’t done so, there will be “an increasingly robust police intervention,” Mr. Trudeau said at a news conference in Ottawa. He added, “This blockade of our economy that is hurting Canadians countrywide, Canadians who have been impacted by these blockades — this conflict must end.”
Automakers have been particularly affected by the partial shutdown of the Ambassador Bridge, which links Windsor and Detroit. Trucks cross it thousands of times a day carrying $300 million worth of goods, about a third of which are related to the auto industry. The blockades have left carmakers short of crucial parts, forcing companies to shut down some plants from Ontario to Alabama on Friday.
The Teamsters union — which represents 15,000 long-haul truck drivers in Canada, but generally not the ones protesting — denounced the blockade, which threatens thousands of jobs.
In Windsor before the court order took effect, Robin Ghanam, with a Canadian flag tied over her shoulders, stood near an open trailer where a group of men were speaking to an Ontario police officer.
Ms. Ghanam, who is from Windsor, said she went to Ottawa for five days to support the convoy. She said the intention of the group at the bridge was to end Covid-19 mandates.
“I believe that this being the busiest bridge in Canada, that this is the place we need to be because this is all about shutting down the economy,” she said. “They’ve done it to us for two years. We’re giving it back.”
Shashank Bengali, Micheline Maynard and Allison Hannaford contributed reporting.
Blockades at the U.S.-Canada border stymied flows of critical supplies for the fourth day on Friday, leaving companies scrambling for materials and shutting down major auto factories from Ontario to Alabama.
The partial closing of the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest land crossing between the countries and a vital conduit for the auto industry, sent ripples through North American supply chains. Business groups called on officials to forcibly remove protesters blocking the bridge.
Some companies tried to redistribute key parts among their factories and looked for other ways to move products.
But others appeared resigned to shutdowns, saying that bypassing the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, was too expensive or difficult.
Toyota said that the disruptions had led to “periodic downtime” at its engine plants in West Virginia and Alabama, as well as factories in Canada and Kentucky, and that interruptions were likely to continue through the weekend. Ford curtailed capacity at two plants in Windsor and Oakville, which is also in Ontario, and shut down its Ohio assembly plant.
The disruptions threatened to linger as truck drivers and members of far-right groups protested vaccine mandates and other pandemic restrictions in Canada and called for the resignation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Every hour this persists the costs rack up,” said Brian Kingston, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, whose members include Ford, G.M. and Stellantis, which owns Jeep, Ram and other brands. “They need to enforce the law and remove the protesters from the road leading to the bridge.”
Production shutdowns will worsen a shortage of new vehicles, which has already driven up prices, IHS Markit, a research firm, warned Friday.
Both the Canadian and American governments were trying to help get auto parts, fresh fruit and vegetables, and other products through the border.
Canadian officials were allowing some companies to send goods through other ports of entry without having to refile documents. U.S. customs officials were assisting that effort by adding personnel and screening lines at those alternate crossings.
Manufacturers and logistics companies were sometimes routing trucks hundreds of miles out of their way to bridges and border checkpoints that were still open, but alternatives to the Ambassador Bridge are limited, said Kelly Stefanich, a Toyota spokeswoman.
Sending shipments through Buffalo and Mackinaw, Mich., for example, requires more drivers and trucks, which were already in short supply.
Some businesses were paying extra to reroute the freight through Buffalo, where the crossing remained open, said Jennifer Frigger-Latham, the vice president of sales and marketing at EMO Trans, a logistics company.
But finding alternate routes was not always easy, said Linda Dynes, the executive vice president of Canadian operations for Farrow, a 100-year-old customs broker.
“It seems like every time you find an alternative path, it gets blocked, either by a farm vehicle or a truck,” she said.
Domestic spot prices for shipping had tripled in some cases, causing many companies to suspend shipments, she added.
Many trucks are trying to use a bridge that connects Port Huron, Mich., with the Canadian city of Sarnia, north of Detroit. But traffic is so heavy that trucks often have to wait hours to cross, Mr. Kingston said, adding that he had heard of waits of up to eight hours.
Some carmakers have moved parts by airfreight or even helicopter. But “air cargo is not as efficient for large and bulky components,” Mr. Kingston said.
He noted that the Ambassador Bridge was designed to accommodate large numbers of heavy trucks. Some hazardous materials or other specialized loads cannot cross any other way.
Carmakers and suppliers are also breaking up shipments and putting them in smaller trucks and vans, which can pass through a tunnel that remains open between Detroit and Windsor.
But such measures are expensive stopgaps, and many companies are simply slowing down production until the blockade ends. “The hope is that this will be over shortly,” said Dan Hearsch, a managing director at AlixPartners, a consulting firm that has been helping auto companies cope with the turmoil.
Thousands of vehicles carrying demonstrators from around France were converging on Paris on Friday in a movement inspired by Canada’s trucker-led protests, despite warnings by French authorities that they would break up attempts to block the capital.
Starting in Lille, Strasbourg, Nice and other cities, convoys of cars, trucks, camping vans and other vehicles slowly made their way to Paris, bearing protesters who honked, waved French flags and held up signs protesting the government’s vaccine pass and other grievances like rising gas prices.
The Paris police issued a ban against the so-called “Convoi de la Liberté,” a direct translation of Canada’s “Freedom Convoy,” threatening to fine offenders and tow blocking vehicles. On Friday, over 7,000 police officers were deployed to tollbooths and other key sites in and around the city with bulldozers and water cannons to break up potential blockades.
Jean Castex, France’s prime minister, said on Friday it was wrong to “associate these virulent attacks against vaccination with the word freedom,” telling the France 2 television broadcaster that the protesters were free to demonstrate but not block traffic.
“If they block Paris or if they try to block the capital, we will have to be very firm,” Mr. Castex said.
But President Emmanuel Macron also appealed for calm, saying in an interview with the newspaper Ouest-France on Friday that he understood the French were exhausted by pandemic restrictions.
“Sometimes that weariness expresses itself through anger,” Mr. Macron said. “I understand it and I respect it.” He added: “But we need unity, we need a lot of collective good will.”
One of the main Facebook groups behind the movement in France has attracted over 360,000 followers over the past weeks, but it was unclear how big the demonstration would be once it reached Paris — French media, citing anonymous police sources, said an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 vehicles were heading to the capital. Some protesters seemed unfazed by the authorities’ firmness.
“It’s impossible to prevent everyone from arriving,” Michel Audidier, a 65-year-old retiree whose protest convoy left Beauvais, north of Paris, told the Agence-France Presse news agency.
It was unclear how many of the demonstrators intended to actually block the city. Some told French media they only wanted to join weekly protests against the vaccine pass that have been held on most weekends in Paris but that have waned significantly in recent months.
Still, the French government is keeping a close eye on those protests, which initially focused on France’s vaccine pass but have grown to encompass other sources of frustration, like rising gas or energy prices.
That mix of grievances and lack of any central organization, with convoys only loosely coordinated on social media and messaging platforms, have drawn comparisons to the Yellow Vest movement that rocked France in 2018 and 2019 with months of sometimes violent protests. That movement was sparked by an increase in gasoline taxes but was fueled by a much broader sense of alienation felt by those living outside Paris.
“We’re not listened to,” Sophie, a 40-year-old unvaccinated protester who set out for Paris from Valenciennes, in northern France, told Europe 1 radio.
Sophie, who did not provide her last name, said she was tired of not being able to go to the restaurant or the movie theater because of her vaccination status, and she welcomed the protests.
“To see that much energy, that much solidarity, honestly, it’s really heartwarming,” she said.
France’s vaccine pass bars most people who do not show proof of full vaccination or recent recovery from Covid from entering public establishments like bars, restaurants and museums. A negative test result is no longer sufficient for those still unvaccinated.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada on Friday again rejected calls to use the military to break up the trucker-led protests that are on track to disrupt the Canadian capital for the third consecutive weekend.
“Using military forces against civilian populations in Canada, or in any other democracy, is something to avoid having to do at all costs,’’ Mr. Trudeau said at a news conference in Ottawa on Friday.
The demonstrators in Ottawa will face “more and more extensive consequences,” he said, if they don’t go home and continue to “endanger the lives and livelihoods of other Canadians.” Police will take further steps, he said without elaborating, if they don’t disband. But he emphasized that using armed forces was unlikely.
The Ottawa protests began when loosely organized groups of truck drivers and others swarmed the city to protest vaccination requirements for truckers entering Canada. But the demonstrations have tapped into broader frustration among many Canadians, who have been living with pandemic restrictions that are among the toughest in the developed world.
And even as many countries are lifting restrictions, most Canadian provincial governments, which are responsible for administering health care, have, until recently, maintained them as cases of the Omicron variant surged and hospitals became overstretched.
The pandemic has taken the lives of close to 34,700 Canadians, according to federal public health data.
Still, most Canadians have supported the public health measures put in place, and Mr. Trudeau noted that the protesters weren’t even a fair reflection of the trucking community.
“I think there was a lot of Canadians scratching their heads at the fact that protesters who purported to speak for truckers actually didn’t represent the 90 percent of truckers who are vaccinated,” he said. “People have been there for each other. They’re united in wanting to be there for each other and they’re also united and being sick and tired of this pandemic. Those two things can be true and are true.”
Mr. Trudeau’s position on using the military is rooted in a mix of history, Canada’s distinct political culture and the jurisdiction of the police in a decentralized federal country.
There are very few precedents for sending in the army in Canada, which does not have provincial equivalents of a national guard. That is a holdover from the time of the country’s founding in 1867, when its leaders did not want to create provincial militias that could challenge the federal government.
As for Mr. Trudeau ordering the police to remove the protesters, the demonstration is under the jurisdiction of the Ottawa Police Service, a force over which the federal government does not have authority.
The federal government has authority only over the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the national police. However, in 1999 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the independence all police forces from political interference in criminal matters.
The issue of political interference in law enforcement is also especially sensitive for Mr. Trudeau, whose biggest career-threatening political crisis was over his perceived interference in a criminal prosecution involving a Montreal-based engineering firm.
Even without the constitutional and legal restraints, Canadians have a right to protest, and Mr. Trudeau in recent days has appeared at pains to avoid inflaming the demonstrators.
The Ottawa police are overstretched and have asked for an additional 1,800 police officers, who are likely to come from other Ontario police forces.
Marco Mendicino, Canada’s minister of public safety, said on Thursday that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were sending additional officers to Ottawa and Windsor, and to the border crossing in Coutts, Alberta, where protests are underway.
“We are a long way from ever having to call in the military,” Mr. Trudeau said. “Although, of course, we have to be ready for any eventuality but it is not something we are seriously contemplating at this time.”
Allison Hannaford contributed reporting.
— Vivek Shankar, Dan Bilefsky and Ian Austen
Some of Fox News’s most popular shows have cheered the protests by Canadian truckers this week and suggested that Americans should consider similar actions.
The protests, organized in opposition to vaccination requirements for truckers entering Canada, have snarled crucial supply chains. On Friday, the premier of Ontario declared a state of emergency for the entire province.
The protests have caught the attention of conservative Fox News hosts including Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, who are widely known for their objection to vaccination requirements and other pandemic-related restrictions.
Mr. Carlson, host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” called the Canadian trucker convoy the “single most successful human rights protest in a generation” on Thursday.
“It has been a very useful reminder to our entire ruling class that working men can be pushed, but only so far,” Mr. Carlson said.
Mr. Hannity, host of “The Sean Hannity Show,” called the protests “inspirational” and “powerful” last week. He has also had Brian Brase, who is organizing a protest in the United States, on his radio show.
“No more failed mandates, no more hysterical counterproductive, draconian restrictions, Johns Hopkins, and no more needless, divisive attacks against essential workers or anyone else for that matter,” Mr. Hannity said last week.
On Thursday, Mr. Hannity told Canadian truckers during an interview: “Don’t give up, don’t let people portray you as something you’re not and don’t let anybody get out of control. Keep it peaceful and you will win.”
“Fox & Friends,” the channel’s morning show, has also invited American truckers to voice support for the protests in Canada. Some of those guests, including Jeremy Johnson, Mike Landis and Mr. Brase, have urged truckers to join the protest planned from the United States. The convoy is scheduled to start in March.
“The presence of that amount of people that show that they are unhappy with what’s going on is a good way to hopefully get their attention,” Mr. Landis said, referring to the demonstration geared toward policymakers in Washington.
Fox News has also invited policymakers in favor of the Canadian demonstrations. In an appearance on “Sunday Morning Futures,” Senator Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican, called the truck drivers in Canada patriots and heroes “marching for your freedom and for my freedom.”
A trucker protest planned in the United States could disrupt Sunday’s Super Bowl as it heads from California to Washington, D.C., according to a Department of Homeland Security memo obtained by The New York Times.
Last week, officials found several social-media posts planning a convoy and have concluded that it could divert public safety resources away from the game, which is expected to draw 70,000 spectators to SoFi Stadium and millions of other fans to the Los Angeles area. Officials haven’t found any calls for violence, according to the memo dated Tuesday.
Officials noted an increase in social-media activity related to the potential convoy in the United States, including the emergence of the hashtags #ShutDownSuperBowl and #SuperBowlTrafficking.
The convoy could form as early as mid-February and reach Washington by mid-March, potentially affecting President Biden’s State of the Union address, which is scheduled for March 1. But officials haven’t seen an increase in hotel reservations near the nation’s capital.
Truckers in Canada, who have been protesting for more than two weeks, may join the demonstration in the United States as it traverses through the country, the memo said.
A statement posted to Facebook on Thursday evening by the U.S. convoy’s main organizing group said they had “no intention or plans to go to the Super Bowl in Los Angeles.”
“Such notice and rumor are put out by either another group or paid opposition,” the statement added.
— Vivek Shankar and Zolan Kanno-Youngs
While the demonstrations outside Canada’s parliament began as loosely organized truck convoys and supporters, the Ottawa police say the protesters are showing signs of increasingly sophisticated tactics to target law-enforcement operations, including help from across the border.
On Wednesday night, the Ottawa police emergency line was “almost jammed” by 911 calls, a significant number of them traced to United States addresses, said Peter Sloly, Ottawa’s police chief.
“They have command centers established here and across the country, and beyond this country,” he told a news conference on Thursday afternoon, referring to the fund-raising, coordination and communication among the demonstrators. “The level of capability that I’m talking about has been validated by our national security agencies.”
In a statement posted on Twitter Thursday morning, the Ottawa police said they would be tracking calls that obstructed the 911 emergency line and charging people who place them. The police currently have 126 active criminal investigations underway connected to the protests, and detectives are looking into another 413 calls made to a hate crime hotline, the force said in a news release.
Because of the protests, Ottawa is facing additional policing costs of at least 800,000 Canadian dollars, or $629,000, per day, not including the costs of reinforcements provided by other jurisdictions.
So far, some of the 250 Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers whose deployment was announced earlier this week are now on patrol, Mr. Sloly said. He has requested 1,800 more officers, but he would not say how many would be arriving in Ottawa.
But more R.C.M.P. officers are being sent, said Marco Mendicino, minister of public safety, in a media scrum at the House of Commons on Thursday. He was asked multiple times about the number of officers that would be sent but did not respond specifically, citing “operational sensitivity.” He said the additional officers would be sent to Ottawa as well as to Windsor, Ontario, and to the border crossing in Coutts, Alberta, where truck blockades have obstructed traffic and put pressure on cross-border movement.
Police Chief Sloly has come under criticism for allowing the protesters to block off whole sections of the city with their heaving trucks and to sound their bellowing horns late into the night. Residents were offered some reprieve by a court injunction on Monday to ban the honking for 10 days.
The demonstrations shaking the nation’s capital began as a protest against the mandatory vaccination of truck drivers crossing the U.S.-Canada border. They have morphed into a battle cry against pandemic restrictions as a whole, and the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Mr. Trudeau, who is isolating after testing positive for the coronavirus last week, has sought to downplay the scope and influence of the protesters, calling them a “small fringe minority,” and lashing out at them for desecrating war memorials, wielding Nazi symbols, spreading disinformation and stealing food from the homeless during protests in Ottawa.
During the pandemic, repeated polls have shown that a majority of Canadians support public health measures to contain the pandemic, but the number of Canadians who would like to see restrictions end has risen in recent weeks, and the demonstrations have tapped into pandemic fatigue across the country after months of lockdowns.
More than two-thirds of Canadians said they had “very little in common” with how the Ottawa protesters see things, while 32 percent said they had “a lot in common,” according to a survey conducted last week by Abacus Data, a research firm.
Police and analysts say the protests, which have galvanized thousands of demonstrators in Ottawa, Quebec City, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, among other places, have no single leader, but encompass an assortment of people, many of them on the political right.
A key organizer of the “Freedom Convoy” that arrived in Ottawa last week is Tamara Lich, who was previously secretary of the relatively new Maverick Party, a right-of-center group that was started to promote the separation of Canada’s three western Prairie Provinces from the rest of the country.
Ms. Lich, a former fitness instructor who has sung and played guitar in an Alberta band called Blind Monday, played a leading role in organizing a GoFundMe campaign that raised about 10 million Canadian dollars, about $7.8 million, for the cause. But the online service has turned over only about 1 million dollars of that. After consulting the police, the company closed the campaign and is refunding the rest of the money to donors, citing “violence and other unlawful activity” during the demonstrations.
Ms. Lich has called for the federal government to strike down pandemic restrictions in Canada, such as provincial vaccine mandates and rules requiring masks. But Canada has a federal system in which provincial governments have considerable constitutional power, including over health care regulations.
“Our departure will be based on the prime minister doing what is right, ending all mandates and restrictions on our freedoms,” Ms. Lich said at a news conference in Ottawa last week, during which she did not take questions. “We will continue our protest until we see a clear plan for their elimination.”
Another main organizer of the truck convoy is a group calling itself Canada Unity, which has published a “memorandum of understanding” calling on Canada’s appointed senators and Canada’s Governor General (the representative of Queen Elizabeth II in Canada’s constitutional monarchy) to abolish all Covid-19 related restrictions and to allow all unvaccinated workers whose employment was terminated because of vaccine mandates to get their jobs back.
Members of the far-right People’s Party of Canada are also well represented among the protesters in Ottawa. The party has no seats in the federal Parliament. Its leader, Maxime Bernier, has denounced vaccine mandates and has previously railed against immigration and multiculturalism.
Andrew McDougall, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto, described the protests not as a mass national movement but, rather as “the most extreme manifestation we have seen of frustration about pandemic restrictions.”
“To the extend that the convoy is anti-vax and anti-science,” he added, “it is on the margins of Canadian society.”