Canadian police moved in on Saturday morning to evacuate protesters on an economically vital bridge in Windsor, Ont., which connects Canada and the United States, and by noon had driven most pedestrians onto other streets. A dozen vans remained, blocking the flow of traffic over the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit, an important conduit for global auto industry supply chains.
A group of police wearing heavy jackets but not wielding shields or other riot gear stood in line, cautiously and gradually closing in on protesters. Officers told protesters they risked arrest if they failed to clear the area.
They are reinforced by a second group of officers in military uniform. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the national broadcaster, showed what appeared to be an armored personnel carrier at the scene. The officers were from the Windsor Police Service as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s national police force.
More than a dozen vans and cars were still blocking the bridge around noon, the vehicles revving their engines.
Deputy Chief Jason Bellaire of the Windsor Police Service did not disclose the number of officers tasked with lifting the blockade, citing operational sensitivity. In an interview outside a police command center bus, he said five other police forces were assisting his department, as well as tow trucks sent across the border by the state of Michigan. He had no information on when the Ambassador Bridge would reopen.
He told CBC there were no arrests and the goal was to de-escalate the situation peacefully and through mediation. Officers would escalate, but only if necessary, he said.
On Saturday, concerns were also raised about protesters blocking the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ont., which connects southern Ontario and Buffalo, New York, and which trucks use to transport automotive and agricultural products between countries.
Constable Philip Gavin of the Niagara Regional Police Service said by email that police were trying to deal with a convoy that had headed for the bridge and that the OPP had closed the lanes. Queen Elizabeth Highway towards Fort Erie.
In Windsor, some of the protesters were yelling at the police, while others chanted “freedom, freedom!” and sang “O Canada”, the national anthem. A group of protesters took down a tent where they had kept food and supplies, then swept the area around it.
“You are much better than that,” one protester shouted at police.
Automakers have been particularly hard hit by the partial closure of the Ambassador Bridge, which normally carries $300 million worth of goods a day, about a third of which is related to the auto industry. The lockdowns left automakers short of crucial parts, forcing companies to close some factories from Ontario to Alabama on Friday.
A court order calling on protesters to disband or face heavy fines or jail time went into effect at 7 p.m. Friday, and the number of protesters has since declined. But on Saturday morning, dozens of protesters, some dressed in fluorescent construction clothing, still refused to leave and crowded an intersection before the bridge, drinking coffee and waving Canadian flags. Other protesters stayed in their vans, idling, to keep warm.
Art Jussila, an electrician wearing a hunting jacket, said he came every day to protest. “All mandates have to go, that’s absolutely not fair,” he said, referring to vaccine mandates.
As Canada enters the third weekend of a crisis that has brought thousands of protesters to the streets of its capital and disrupted international supply chains, officials are turning to tougher measures to try to restore order.
On Saturday, new groups of protesters arrived in Ottawa, the nation’s capital, where protesters have been scolding traffic and disturbing businesses and residents for weeks. Pop music blared from the trucks’ stereos as people wrapped in Canadian flags trudged through the snow.
The protests began as a protest against the mandatory vaccination of truckers crossing the Canada-US border. But they have turned into a battle cry against pandemic restrictions as a whole and the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Premier and Premier of Ontario both warned Friday that protesters would face fines of up to $100,000 and a year in jail if they did not voluntarily disperse.
“We know that the best solution to illegal blockades is for people to decide for themselves that they have been heard, that they have expressed their frustrations and disagreements, and that now is the time to go home,” said said Mr. Trudeau.
Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, declared a state of emergency for the entire province, clearing the way for the government to pass laws that would not normally be allowed to protect citizens. “Your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the right of hundreds of thousands of workers to earn a living,” Mr Ford told a news conference.
The protests have drawn the attention of far-right and anti-vaccine groups around the world, raising millions of dollars and inspiring copycat protests in France, New Zealand and Australia. Organizers of a US convoy announced a protest in Washington, DC on March 5.
Sarah Maslin Nir contributed reporting from Ottawa.