The shutdown of a vital trade route between Canada and the United States by truckers protesting vaccine mandates is knocking out carmaker operations and ramping up pressure on authorities in both countries to quell the demonstrations.
“My message is simple: reopen traffic on the bridge,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in a statement on Thursday, calling on Canadian officials to “take all necessary and appropriate steps to immediately and safely reopen traffic”.
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The protests by truckers who oppose vaccine mandates started as a “Freedom Convoy” occupying downtown Ottawa, Canada’s capital, and have expanded to other countries amid grievances about carbon taxes and other legislation. A second major US-Canada border crossing in Manitoba on Thursday was blocked by an anti-vaccine mandate protest. Similar protests have erupted in Australia, New Zealand, and France.
The protests have caused gridlock in the Canadian capital since late January. On Monday night, Canadian truckers shut inbound traffic at the Ambassador Bridge across the Detroit River, a major supply route for carmakers and agricultural products.
“This interruption on the Detroit-Windsor bridge hurts customers, auto workers, suppliers, communities and companies on both sides of the border,” Ford said in a statement.
“We hope this situation is resolved quickly because it could have widespread impact on all automakers in the US and Canada.”
Police near the Ambassador bridge have begun receiving additional manpower Drew Dilkens, mayor of Windsor, Ontario, which borders Detroit, told US broadcaster CNN.
“(If) the protesters don’t leave, there will have to be a path forward. If that means physically removing them, that means physically removing them, and we’re prepared to do that,” Dilkens said.
More than two-thirds of the 650 billion Canadian dollars ($511bn) in goods traded annually between Canada and the US is transported by road. Ford, Toyota and General Motors have shut down plants or otherwise cut production on both sides of the border.
Canadian federal ministers have called the blockade illegal and asked protesters to return home.
“Although the Ambassador Bridge is not closed US-bound, the presence of demonstrators is making it difficult to access the bridge,” local police said on Thursday, urging motorists to avoid access points to the bridge.
US authorities, meanwhile, braced for the possibility of similar truck-convoy protests.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a bulletin to local and state law enforcement agencies that it had received reports that truckers were planning to “potentially block roads in major metropolitan cities” in a protest against vaccine mandates.
DHS said a convoy could begin in Southern California as early as this weekend, possibly disrupting traffic around the NFL’s Super Bowl championship game, and reach Washington, DC, in time for President Joe Biden’s the State of the Union address to the US Congress, March 1, according to a copy of the DHS bulletin obtained by The Associated Press.
DHS said the protest could be disruptive and tie up traffic but that there have been no calls for violence.
Elsewhere, a ban on road blockades in Europe and threats of prison time and heavy fines were prompted by online chat groups calling for drivers to converge on Paris starting on Friday night, and to continue on to Brussels on Monday.
Police in Ottawa were promising stricter action Thursday to end the protests that occupied a main street downtown, home to government buildings, the parliament house and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s residence.
So far 23 arrests have been made in Ottawa and police warned of more arrests and seizures of vehicles. Some protesters moved their demonstration to the Ottawa International Airport, causing traffic disruptions.
Ottawa police on Thursday said there was a “concerted effort to flood our 911 and non-emergency policing reporting line. This endangers lives and is completely unacceptable.”
As of Wednesday, the demonstration at the Ambassador Bridge involved 50 to 74 vehicles and about 100 protesters, police said.
“We’re not going to let this happen for a prolonged period of time,” Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said on Wednesday.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Wednesday the Biden administration is watching closely impact of the bridge blockade “on workers, on the supply chain”.