The Canadian Police Work to Clear Protesters in Ontario

A group of police officers stood in a line to move protesters blocking access to an economically vital bridge in Windsor, Ontario. It’s the third week of demonstrations that began as a protest against Canada’s vaccine mandate for truck drivers crossing the U.S.-Canada border.

[Crowd chatter] “They want everybody, as in everybody, out of here.” “All of you are better. Every single one of you are better.”

Video player loading
A group of police officers stood in a line to move protesters blocking access to an economically vital bridge in Windsor, Ontario. It’s the third week of demonstrations that began as a protest against Canada’s vaccine mandate for truck drivers crossing the U.S.-Canada border.CreditCredit…Geoff Robins/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Canadian police moved in on Saturday morning to clear protesters at an economically vital bridge in Windsor, Ontario, that connects Canada and the United States, and by midday had shepherded most of the pedestrians onto other streets. About a dozen vehicles remained, blocking the flow of traffic across the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit, an important conduit for the supply chains of the global automobile industry.

A group of police officers wearing heavy jackets but not wielding shields or other riot gear stood in a line, cautiously and progressively edging closer to the protesters. Officers told protesters that they risked arrest if they failed to clear the area.

They were reinforced by a second group of officers in military garb. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the national broadcaster, showed what appeared to be an armored personnel carrier at the scene. The officers were from the Windsor Police Service as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s national police force.

While one intersection leading to the Ambassador Bridge was cleared by the early afternoon, two other intersections remained blocked by pickup trucks and cars, and protesters moved freely between the two.

After the police pushed back the crowd, more local residents arrived on foot to add to their numbers, honking and yelling in what resembled a party atmosphere.

Joanne Moody, a personal support worker from Chatham, Ontario, yelled at police officers on Saturday morning as they formed a line to push the crowd down the street. She remained at the demonstration into the afternoon, as the earlier tense mood grew festive, with people dancing and waving Canadian flags. Ms. Moody, who had spent the last two weeks at the movement’s original demonstration in Ottawa, said she wanted to see an end to mandated health restrictions.

Deputy Chief Jason Bellaire of the Windsor Police Service would not disclose the number of officers detailed to clearing the blockade, citing operational sensitivity. In an interview outside a police command center bus, he said five other police forces were assisting his department, as well as tow trucks sent across the border by the State of Michigan.

He told the CBC that there had been no arrests, and that the aim was to defuse the situation peacefully and with mediation. Officers would escalate, but only when necessary, he said.

On Saturday there were also concerns about protesters blockading the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ontario, which connects Southern Ontario and Buffalo, N.Y., and which trucks use to transport automotive and agricultural products between the countries.

Constable Philip Gavin, of the Niagara Regional Police Service, said by email that officers were working to manage a convoy that had traveled toward the bridge, and that the Ontario Provincial Police had closed the Fort Erie-bound lanes of Queen Elizabeth Way.

Automakers have been particularly affected by the partial shutdown of the Ambassador Bridge, which normally carries $300 million worth of goods a day, 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.

As Canada enters the third weekend of a crisis that has brought thousands of protesters into the streets of its capital, Ottawa, and disrupted international supply chains, officials are turning to harsher measures to try to restore order.

A court order calling for protesters to disband or face stiff fines or prison went into effect on Friday at 7 p.m., and the numbers of protesters has since thinned. But on Saturday morning, dozens of protesters, some dressed in fluorescent construction garb, had still refused to leave, and were milling around at an intersection before the bridge, drinking coffee and holding up Canadian flags. Other protesters remained in their pickup trucks, their engines idling, to stay warm.

Art Jussila, an electrician wearing a hunting jacket, said he had been coming every day to protest. “All the mandates have to go, it’s absolutely not right,” he said, referring to vaccine mandates.

The demonstrations began as a protest against the mandatory vaccination of truck drivers crossing the U.S.-Canada border. But they have morphed into a battle cry against pandemic restrictions as a whole, and the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The prime minister and the premier of Ontario both warned on Friday that the demonstrators would face up to 100,000 dollars in fines and a year in prison if they did not disperse voluntarily.

“We know that the best solution to unlawful blockades is that people 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,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, declared a state of emergency for the entire province, clearing the way for a more forceful government response.

The protests have attracted the attention of far-right and anti-vaccine groups globally, raising millions of dollars and inspiring copycat protests in France, New Zealand and Australia. Organizers of a U.S. convoy announced a protest in Washington on March 5.

Sarah Maslin Nir contributed reporting from Ottawa.

Source link