Canadian authorities turn to courts to break blockade

TORONTO – Canadian authorities headed to court Friday in an attempt to break the blockade of the bridge by truckers protesting the country’s COVID-19 restrictions as parts shortages ripple through the auto industry in both sides of the Canada-US border.

The mayor of Windsor, Ont., planned to seek an injunction during an afternoon hearing against members of the self-proclaimed Freedom Convoy who used dozens of pickup trucks to jam the Ambassador Bridge connecting the city to Detroit. The standoff entered its fifth day on Friday.

Federal, provincial and local authorities have been reluctant to forcibly evict protesters there and elsewhere in the country, apparently reflecting a lack of local police manpower, Canada’s respect for freedom of expression and fear of a violent reaction. Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens warned earlier this week that some of the truckers were “ready to die”.

But pressure to reopen the bridge appeared to be mounting, with Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Honda closing auto plants or canceling shifts due to parts shortages, and the Biden administration urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to use its federal powers to end the blockade. The Michigan governor also called on Canadian authorities to quickly resolve the impasse.

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.”

Hundreds of protesters in trucks have also paralyzed the streets of downtown Ottawa for almost two weeks now, and have now 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 support from people like former President Donald Trump.

“This is an unprecedented demonstration. It has significant levels of fundraising, coordination and communication. They have established command centers here and across the country and beyond this country,” Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said.

On Friday, amid signs that authorities may be ready to crack down, police in Windsor and Ottawa waited for reinforcements from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the federal police force.

Ottawa’s mayor has requested 1,800 additional police officers, nearly doubling the strength of the city’s police force, which has 2,100 police officers and civilian members.

The reaction to the protests has also been marked by disagreements over who is in charge. Canada’s emergency preparedness minister said this week that Ontario had the ultimate responsibility, while the province’s transport minister said it was up to the federal government to secure the border.

Moreover, the leadership of the opposition Conservative Party at the federal level has openly supported the truckers, apparently happy to make this issue Trudeau.

“The problem is that police forces are stretched for all three levels of government,” Wiseman said, adding, “If someone ‘takes responsibility,’ they will be accused of failure when things aren’t resolved quickly. or if things go wrong.”

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 protests against the trucks could be underway in 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.

Wiseman said the Canadian army should have been called in after a week of stalemate in Ottawa.

“The reluctance of federal authorities to act decisively has emboldened occupiers and copycats,” he said. “Ottawa, I believe, will be forced to use the military.”

Canadian protesters decry vaccination mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 restrictions and rail against Trudeau, though many of the country’s infection measures are already swiftly lifted as omicron push unfolds stabilizes.

Trudeau continues to strongly oppose the lifting of vaccination mandates. The Prime Minister called the protesters ‘fringe’ who believe in conspiracy theories and wear ‘tinfoil hats’. It only exasperated them more.

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. Canada is running out of hospital capacity, so provinces were quick to impose shutdowns when the waves hit.

Ontario Conservative Premier Doug Ford moved to cut funding for the protests by successfully asking a court to freeze millions of dollars in convoy donations through the crowdfunding site GiveSendGo. Ford called the protests a sit-in and was expected to announce new measures later Friday.

Canadian officials previously asked GoFundMe to cut funding after protest organizers used the site to raise around C$10 million ($7.8 million). GoFundMe has determined that the fundraising effort violates the site’s terms of service due to illegal activity.

ABC News

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