Protests over vaccine mandates and Covid-19 restrictions widened across Canada, with truck blockades halting commercial traffic at critical border crossings including the Ambassador Bridge into Detroit.
The nearly century-old structure that connects to Windsor, Ontario was shut down in both directions late Monday. The land crossing is the most important link for goods moving between Canada and the U.S. and a crucial artery for auto parts suppliers and manufacturers. About 1.4 million trucks entered the U.S. through Detroit last year, almost all of them via the bridge.
Another border crossing at Coutts, Alberta, which had already been partly blocked by truckers, was also completely closed for a time, the Canadian border agency said. It’s the main route for the province’s commercial vehicles bound for the U.S. and one of the busiest border posts in western Canada.
The blockades represent a potentially dramatic escalation for protests that began in late January when a convoy of truckers moved into Ottawa, paralyzing Canada’s capital city. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned in an address to Parliament the demonstrators threatened to hobble the economy and undermine democracy.
“This pandemic has sucked for all Canadians,” the prime minister told lawmakers in an emergency debate Monday evening. “Everyone’s tired of Covid, but these protests are not the way to get through it.”
Government officials and law enforcement, meanwhile, have been struggling to come up with ways to contain the demonstrations, often squabbling over jurisdiction. There is increasing chatter on social media that truckers, who have been championed on Fox News and repeatedly endorsed by Donald Trump, intend to begin setting up blockades in the U.S.
State of Emergency
Police in Windsor said the bridge reopened to U.S.-bound traffic Tuesday morning, though it appeared to still be blocked going in the other direction. Canada’s border agency still listed the bridge as closed in both directions as of 9:25 a.m. New York time.
In Canada’s capital, police have begun trying to cut off supplies to the trucker convoy but have so far been unable to contain the demonstrations, prompting the city of Ottawa to declare a state of emergency. The protesters, who have garnered global attention, say they won’t leave until all Covid health restrictions are dropped.
Citizens in Ottawa have also taken to courts, winning a key legal battle Monday when an Ontario Superior Court judge ordered a 10-day halt to deafening blasts from truck horns that have traumatized downtown residents.
The Canadian prime minister had largely been out of sight during the protest after testing positive for Covid a week ago and going into isolation. On Friday, he said calling in the military was “not in the cards.”
But Trudeau’s administration made it clear Monday it’s not up to the federal government to police Ottawa, though they have begun to provide Royal Canadian Mounted Police resources to help deal with the unprecedented occupation of a large swathe of the city’s downtown core.
In his address to the legislature, Trudeau took a hard line against the protests, while dismissing contentions from the opposition Conservatives that the columns of big rigs parked along major thoroughfares in Ottawa are emblematic of a country bitterly divided over the pandemic.
“This is a story of a country that got through this pandemic by being united, and a few people shouting and waving swastikas does not define who Canadians are,” Trudeau said, referring to images from the initial days of the protest two weekends ago showing signs and flags adorned with Nazi symbols.
Trudeau slammed the protesters for “trying to blockade our economy, our democracy and our fellow citizens’ daily lives.”
Trudeau accused the the demonstrators of effectively trying to overturn last September’s election result, which saw his Liberals returned to power for a third term but without a parliamentary majority.
“We asked Canadians how they wanted to keep fighting this pandemic, and their answer was clear,” Trudeau said. “Canadians chose vaccines. They chose science.”
Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen — who took the party’s helm after Erin O’Toole was ousted in a caucus putsch last week — challenged Trudeau on whether he lit the fuse for the protest by demonizing people who oppose vaccines and vaccine mandates.
“We are at a crisis point not only with what’s going on out the doors and across the country, but the country overall,” Bergen said Monday night. “And so much of it is because of the things that he has said and done.”
But Trudeau again insisted Canadians are united. He also praised the handful of Conservative lawmakers who have called for the protesters to leave Ottawa’s streets, while imploring others to follow suit.
“I’ve seen members of the opposition call for an end to the blockades,” Trudeau said. “I salute that. This is a time to put national interests ahead of partisan interests.”