Key US-Canada bridge reopens after police clear final protesters

Police say arrests were made and vehicles towed away at the border crossing near Windsor amid rallies against COVID-19 measures.

Police officers stand guard in front of a car during COVID-19 protests in Canada
Demonstrators in trucks, cars and vans have blocked traffic in both directions at North America's busiest land border crossing since Monday [File: Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

The Ambassador Bridge, the busiest border crossing between the United States and Canada, has reopened after police cleared anti-coronavirus protesters who had occupied the bridge for almost a week.

The bridge’s owner, Detroit International Bridge Co, said in a statement that “the Ambassador Bridge is now fully open allowing the free flow of commerce between the Canada and US economies once again.”

Police in Windsor on the Canadian side of the border, said earlier that more than two dozen people were peacefully arrested, seven vehicles were towed away and five seized near the bridge that links the city – and numerous Canadian car plants – with the US city of Detroit.

Police stepped up their presence in the area on Sunday deploying more than 50 vehicles, including cruisers, buses and an armoured car, while the number of protesters dropped to about 45 from roughly 100 the previous day.

For the past week, protesters in trucks, cars and vans have blocked traffic in both directions at the crossing, choking off the flow of goods on a link that carries 25 percent of all trade between the two countries.

Police on Saturday persuaded demonstrators to move the vehicles used to block the crossing.

Only two pick-up trucks and less than a dozen protesters blocked the road to the bridge before police moved in, according to The Associated Press.

“We are protesting the government taking away our rights,” said Windsor resident Eunice Lucas-Logan. “We want the restrictions removed. We have to wait to find out.”

The 67-year-old has been out supporting the protest for the past four days. She said she appreciated that police have been patient.

‘Right to choose’

Meanwhile, in Canada’s capital Ottawa, the rally against coronavirus restrictions swelled to about 4,000 people on Sunday, according to police.

Stephanie Ravensbergen, 31, said she turned out to support her aunt and uncle who have parked their lorry in the streets since the beginning of the protest. She opposes vaccine and mask requirements, and said it is important for schoolchildren to be able see their friends’ faces and emotions.

“We want the right to choose,” Ravensbergen said. “We want the right to be able to do what everybody else can do.”

The city has seen as many demonstrators on past weekends, and loud music played as people milled about in the city centre where anti-vaccine protesters set up camp in late January.

A former cabinet minister in Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government took the unusual step of calling out her former federal colleagues as well as the province and city for not putting an end to the protests.

“Amazingly, this isn’t just Ottawa. It’s the nation’s capital,” Catherine McKenna tweeted. “But no one – not the city, the province or the federal government can seem to get their act together to end this illegal occupation. It’s appalling … Just get your act together. Now.”


Trudeau has so far rejected calls to use the military, but said “all options are on the table” to end the protests that have affected the economy on both sides of the border.

The prime minister also called the protesters a “fringe” of Canadian society.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency last week for the capital, where hundreds of trucks remained in front of parliament buildings and demonstrators have set up portable toilets outside the prime minister’s office, where Trudeau’s motorcade usually parks.

Ottawa police said in a statement late on Saturday a joint command centre had been established with the Ontario Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They said that would beef up enforcement capabilities that had been limited by “safety concerns – arising from aggressive, illegal behaviour by many demonstrators – [that] limited police enforcement capabilities”.

Police earlier issued a statement calling the protest an unlawful occupation and saying they were waiting for reinforcements before implementing a plan to end the demonstrations.

Court order

On Friday, a judge ordered an end to the blockade of mostly pick-up trucks and cars, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency allowing for fines of $100,000 and up to one year in jail for anyone illegally blocking roads, bridges, walkways and other infrastructure.

With the bridge closed, car factories on both sides of the border had been forced to shut down or reduce production. The standoff came at a time when the industry is already struggling to maintain production in the face of pandemic-induced shortages of computer chips and other supply-chain disruptions.

While the protesters are angry about vaccine mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 restrictions, many of Canada’s public health measures, such as mask rules and vaccine passports for getting into restaurants and theatres, are already falling away as the surge in Omicron cases levels off.

The vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and the COVID-19 death rate is one-third that of the United States.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies