Canadian police begin evacuating protesters from the important US-Canada Bridge

Canadian police said Canadian police began acquitting protesters opposing pandemic restrictions who were blocking a bridge linking Canada and the United States, more than 12 hours after a court order to end the blockade took effect.

The Ambassador Bridge, the busiest land crossing in North America, saw no traffic for the fifth day in a row on Saturday morning. About 15 trucks, cars and vans blocked traffic in both directions, choking the supply chain for Detroit automakers.

“We urge all protesters to act legally and peacefully,” Windsor Police said in a tweet, asking passengers to avoid areas affected by the demonstrations.

Police in black and yellow jackets were seen moving behind the protesters’ cars on the bridge. Protesters eased the closure of about 200 of the bridge on Friday evening.

The “Freedom Caravan” protests, which began in the national capital Ottawa by Canadian truck drivers opposed to imposing a vaccination or quarantine for cross-border drivers, entered their 16th day on Saturday.

The protests spread to three border points, including the Safir Bridge, stifling trade between the two countries.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised President Joe Biden to take swift action to end the crisis, and a Canadian judge on Friday ordered an end to a four-day blockade of the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest land crossing in North America.

The order went into effect at 7 p.m. EDT (0:00 GMT), but five hours after the deadline, about 100 protesters were parading around the bridge’s entrance, waving Canadian flags.

While the number of protesters and police decreased as the night progressed, protesters continued to block the bridge with trucks and vans, preventing any traffic flow in either direction.

The protesters sang the Canadian national anthem midnight, and some chanted “Freedom!”

Police, who began congregating in a parking lot several blocks from the protesters, began distributing leaflets outlining penalties under Ontario’s emergency order, which went into effect at midnight.

Trudeau told reporters earlier that no action was taken off the table.

Companies have shifted shipments to reduce losses amid production cuts by companies including Ford.

On Friday, Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Morawitz granted the request by car industry associations and Windsor city authorities in hopes of ending the protests. As they occupied the roads to the bridge on Friday, protesters expressed defiance and there was no sign of them backing off.

“Canada is supposed to be a free country,” said Liz Valley, a protester from Chatham, Ontario. When that freedom is threatened, we must stand up.”

Valley said she and others will stay until all pandemic-related mandates are lifted.

The “Freedom Caravan” protests, initiated by Canadian truck drivers opposing the mandate to vaccinate or quarantine drivers across the border, have occupied areas outside government buildings in the national capital Ottawa and blocked two smaller US crossings.

The protests have inspired similar convoys and plans in France, New Zealand, Australia and the United States, whose Department of Homeland Security is working to ensure that a “Freedom Caravan” event scheduled for early March in Washington, D.C., “does not disrupt the lawful commerce.”

East of Ottawa, people in Fredericton in New Brunswick County were expected to gather for a demonstration this weekend. Local police said officers were stationed at city entrances to ensure traffic continued. Canadian financial capital Toronto is also preparing for more demonstrations this weekend.

The White House said in a statement that Biden raised concerns about auto plant shutdowns and slowing production during a phone call with Trudeau, as well as calls for action by US officials and business leaders.

“The two leaders agreed that the actions of individuals obstructing travel and trade between our two countries have significant direct impacts on the lives and livelihoods of citizens,” the statement said.

“The Prime Minister promised swift law enforcement action, and the President thanked him for the steps he and other Canadian authorities are taking to restore open corridor of bridges to the United States,” she added.

Trudeau told reporters he agreed with Biden that the blockade could not continue. “Everything is on the table because this illegal activity must and will end,” Trudeau said.

Cross-border trade between the United States and Canada in vehicles and essential parts totaled $51.5 billion in 2021, according to IHS Markit estimates.

The Biden administration has urged Canada to use federal authorities to ease the blockade of the Ambassador’s Bridge, a move the Trudeau government has not taken. On Friday, Trudeau said his government was not seriously considering inviting the military to quell the protests.

The leader of Ontario, where police have avoided using force to disperse protesters, sought to increase pressure Friday by threatening a C$100,000 fine and up to a year in prison for non-compliance.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the sanctions as part of emergency measures, saying there was a need “to make it clear that it is illegal and punishable to prevent and impede the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure.”

Windsor Police issued a statement warning of the arrests, but it was not clear if or when authorities would start issuing fines or seeking prison sentences.

With auto production cuts escalating, Ford, the second-largest US automaker, said Friday it has temporarily halted work at its assembly plant in Ohio. General Motors and Toyota also announced new production cuts.

Shares of Canadian auto parts maker Magna International fell 6.4% on Friday after it said it experienced an initial hit from the bridge closure.

Besides the auto sector losses, the three crossings between the United States and Canada have disrupted 33% of Canada’s trade with the United States, worth $616 million a day, according to Export Canada Development.

IHS Markit said in a report on Friday that closing the bridge could exacerbate the shortage of new cars in the United States and contribute to an already rapidly rising price of new cars. Even if the blockade ends, IHS Markit said, a return to normal will take several weeks as supply chain shortages persist.

“The Canadian government must do everything they can to resolve this safely and quickly,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, home to nearly a fifth of US auto production, told CNN.

Reuters

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