Canadian lawmakers expressed growing concern Tuesday about the economic effects of disruptive demonstrations after the busiest border crossings between the United States and Canada were partially blocked by truck drivers protesting against vaccine mandates and other Covid-19 restrictions.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, prevented traffic from entering Canada while some traffic bound for the United States was still moving, describing the bridge as “one of the most important border crossings in the world.” It carries 25% of all trade is between Canada and the United States.
Canadian Transport Minister Omar Al-Ghabra said such a blockade would have serious repercussions on the economy and supply chains. “I have already heard from car makers and food grocers. This is really a serious cause for concern,” he said in the capital, Ottawa.
“Most Canadians understand that there is a difference between tiredness and exhaustion from a pandemic and crossing over into another universe,” Mendicino added.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking at an emergency debate late Monday in Parliament, said protesters were “trying to corner our economy and our democracy”.
Auto parts and other goods were still flowing across the border Tuesday night, despite bridge delays. But the trucks had to travel nearly 70 miles north to the Blue Water Bridge that connects Sarnia, Ontario, to Port Huron, Michigan. The authorities at that bridge reported a delay of nearly three hours for trucks to cross. In total, the flight will take more than five hours longer than usual.
“Anti-government agitators” Flavio Volpi, president of the Canadian Association of Auto Parts Manufacturers, said protesters had no right to park vehicles in the middle of roads. He wondered about the number of truck drivers demonstrating because truck drivers’ associations and large logistics companies evaded the blockade.
“It’s really a group of anti-government agitators,” he said.
Volpi said the protests are also threatening the supply of fresh produce, livestock and other food.
Jeff Schuster, president of auto consultancy LMC in Troy, Michigan, said the five-hour delay could cause production disruptions because factories are running heavily on partial supplies with an already fragile supply chain.
“Everything is ‘just in time’ these days,” he said. “We’re still dealing with parts shortages in general and supply chain issues. This is just another industry wrench we’re dealing with right now.”
Protesters also closed another important border crossing between the United States and Canada in Coats, Alberta.
The daily demonstrations organized by the so-called Freedom Trucks Convoy are centered in Ottawa, where demonstrators have used hundreds of parked trucks to paralyze parts of the capital for more than 10 days. Protesters said they will not leave until all vaccination decisions and Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.
Protest organizers have been calling for weeks to dismiss Trudeau’s government, even though most of the restrictive measures have been put in place by provincial governments.
On Tuesday, regulators withdrew an illegal request that the nation’s governor-general, representing Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, compel federal and provincial governments to lift all Covid-19 restrictions, including vaccine mandates. They now say they support the Canadian constitution and the democratic process.
Francois Laporte, president of Teamsters Canada, which represents more than 55,000 drivers, including 15,000 long-haul truck drivers, said the protests do not represent an industry where 90% of drivers are vaccinated.
In a statement, Freedom Caravan “and the vile display of hate led by the political right and with shameful encouragement by elected Conservative politicians does not reflect the values of Teamsters Canada nor the vast majority of our members,” Laporte said in a statement.
Alan Bedard, Chairman and CEO of TFI International Inc.
“Vaccination at TFI is not a problem at all,” he said, and few of the company’s unvaccinated drivers remain in Canada.
Locals say they are being terrorized, and the protests have also angered people who live in downtown Ottawa, including neighborhoods near Parliament House, the seat of the federal government.
Dave Weatherall, a federal civil servant, lives near the truckers’ main staging area in a city-owned car park outside the downtown core. “They use a lot to terrorize people,” he said.
“It’s the first time since having children that I’ve seriously questioned the world we brought them into. I’ve always thought they could handle most things the world would throw at them, but it just feels different.”
The city manager said that all of the trucking companies contracted with the city refused to pull the big rigs.
Joel Lightbound, MP for Trudeau’s liberal party, reprimanded his leader on Tuesday for dividing Canadians and said his government needed to come up with a roadmap for when to lift coronavirus measures.
“It is time for us to stop dividing people, and to stop pitting part of the population against each other,” Lightbound said.
“We are all tired of Covid,” Trudeau said, everyone is sick of Covid-19, and that the restrictions won’t last forever. He noted that Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.
This government has focused every step of the way on following the best science, and the best public health advice, to keep as many people as possible safely. Trudeau said Tuesday.
Epidemiological restrictions have been stricter in Canada than in the United States, but Canadians have largely supported these measures. Canada’s death rate is one third that of its neighbour.
Meanwhile, the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan, Quebec, Alberta and Prince Edward Island have announced plans to lift some or all of their Covid-19 restrictions, with Alberta removing the vaccine passport almost immediately. A week ago, Alberta’s premier said the vaccine passport could be revoked by the end of March.
The Quebec plan does not include mandates to terminate the mask or the vaccine passport system.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault said the protesters who descended on Quebec City last weekend to demand an end to health measures did not affect the government’s decision to present a reopening plan to Quebecers.
“Now, if they (the protesters) want to take credit for it, and then they don’t come back after two weeks, I wouldn’t object to it,” Legault said.