Canadian police in a standoff with protesters blocking a bridge to the United States
WINDSOR, Ontario, Feb 12 (Reuters) – A standoff between Canadian police and protesters blocking a key bridge to the United States continued on Saturday, more than seven hours after authorities tried to end a blockade of the important trade corridor.
Protesters opposed to the government’s tough pandemic restrictions occupied the Ambassador Bridge for the fifth straight day, scolding international trade and prompting President Joe Biden to call for an end to the siege. But there were still no signs of traffic picking up.
As police managed to push the protesters back from the foot of the Ambassador Bridge, more and more people poured into the area and the operation seemed to have stalled.
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As the afternoon dragged on, some Canadians wondered what had caused the delay, given Friday’s court order to end the blockade and the imposition of the state of emergency declared by Ontario authorities.
“It would essentially send the message that the state is unable to maintain control, where it tries to,” Michael Kempa, associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, told CBC News. .
“The longer it drags on, the more people get the idea that what they are doing is not illegal protest,” he said.
The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest land border crossing in North America. Since Monday, protesters in trucks, cars and vans have blocked traffic in both directions, stifling the supply chain of Detroit automakers.
The “Freedom Convoy” protests, launched in the capital Ottawa by Canadian truckers opposed to a vaccination or quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, entered their 16th day on Saturday. It turned into a larger protest against the curbs of COVID-19, with people joining in smaller vehicles, including cars, vans and pick-up trucks.
Early Saturday, Windsor Police urged protesters to act lawfully and peacefully. Officers in black uniforms with yellow vests moved behind protesters’ vehicles and, accompanied by police cruisers, slowly advanced on protesters, pushing them back from the bridge entrance.
The number of protesters had dwindled to around two dozen by early Saturday from around 200 by Friday evening.
“We are opening this intersection to traffic. If you do not follow our instructions, you will be arrested,” police told the crowd over a loudspeaker.
The demonstrators retreated in a noisy but peaceful retreat, dismantling tents and barbecues. But since then, the police have made no progress, according to witnesses.
Ottawa police said they were waiting for reinforcements to put an end to the “illegal occupation” of the capital. Protesters there “showed aggressive behavior towards law enforcement” and tore down a fence that had been erected around the National War Memorial.
Protests have spread to three border points: the Ambassador Bridge, which strangles trade between the two countries, and two smaller crossings in Alberta and Manitoba.
Canadian police said the protests were partly funded by American supporters and Ontario froze funds donated through a US platform, GiveSendGo, on Thursday.
The Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD.TO) froze two personal bank accounts in which 1.4 million Canadian dollars ($1.1 million) had been deposited in support of the protesters. Read more
The protests have inspired convoys and similar plans in the United States, France, New Zealand and Australia.
In Paris, French police fired tear gas at protesters on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on Saturday shortly after a convoy carrying protesters against COVID-19 restrictions entered the capital. Read more
In Toronto, Canada’s financial capital, police blocked major roads leading to the central business district, ahead of a protest scheduled for Saturday. A convoy of motorists in the United States plans to head to the Port Huron, Michigan, waterfront to support protesters in Canada.
Another US group said two separate convoys of vehicles would converge this weekend at the Peace Bridge, another US-Canada border crossing in Buffalo, New York.
Ford (FN), the second largest US automaker, General Motors (GM.N) and Toyota Motor Co (7203.T) all announced production cuts. Companies have diverted shipments to stem losses amid production cuts.
The estimated loss from blockades for the auto industry alone could reach $700 million, based on data from IHS Markit, which puts the daily flow of vehicles and parts at $141.1 million per day in 2021.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has come under pressure from opposition party leaders to intervene. Trudeau is scheduled to chair a meeting of his top advisers, called the Incident Response Group, on Saturday to discuss the situation.
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Reporting by Kayla Tarnowski and Carlos Osorio in Windsor; Written by Denny Thomas; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Amran Abocar and Daniel Wallis
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