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Police arrest remaining anti-vaccine protesters at US-Canada bridge

Demonstrators were detained and vehicles were towed near the Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit and Windsor just after dawn.

Anti-vaccine protesters gather in Queen's Park in Toronto this weekend.
Anti-vaccine protesters gather in Queen's Park in Toronto this weekend.
Image: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Live News

Updated Feb 13th 2022, 2:42 PM

POLICE MOVED IN to clear and arrest the remaining protesters near a key US-Canadian border bridge today, trying to end one of the most significant demonstrations to have broken out across Canada and the world against Covid-19 vaccine mandates and other restrictions.

Windsor police said arrests were being made and vehicles were being towed just after dawn near the Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, Ontario – the busiest border crossing to the US. Television images showed officers detaining protesters.

Two pickup trucks and less than a dozen protesters blocked the road to the bridge before police moved in. Afterwards, police barricades remained and it was not immediately clear when the bridge might be reopened.

Police yesterday had persuaded demonstrators to move their pickup trucks and others cars they had used at the entrance to the crossing that sees 25% of all trade between the two countries, although it remained closed.

In the capital, Ottawa, the ranks of protesters swelled to what police said was 4,000 demonstrators.

The city has seen this on past weekends, and loud music played as people milled about in the city centre where anti-vaccine demonstrators have been encamped since late January.

The protests at the bridge, in Ottawa and elsewhere, have reverberated beyond the country, with similarly inspired convoys in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands, and the US department of homeland security warned that truck convoys could be in the offing in the United States.

An ex-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.

featureimage Protesters face police as officers enforce an injunction against their demonstration at the Ambassador Bridge in Ontario. Source: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP

“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 had said that “all options are on the table” to end the protests that have affected the economy on both sides of the border. The prime minister has called the protesters a “fringe” of Canadian society.

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

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

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featureimage Police officers hold a line as protesters against Covid-19 restrictions march in Windsor, Ontario. Source: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press/AP

Even after protesters’ vehicles were removed, hundreds more arrived to bolster the crowd and settled into a faceoff with police about two blocks away, waving flags and yelling. While there were no visible physical confrontations, the crowd still controlled the road to the bridge.

On Friday, a judge ordered an end to the blockade of mostly pickup trucks and cars, and Ontario premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency allowing for fines of 100,000 Canadian dollars (€69,000) and up to one year in jail for anyone illegally blocking roads, bridges, pavements and other critical infrastructure.

With the bridge closed, car plants on both sides have 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 decrying vaccine mandates for truck drivers 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 Omicron surge levels off.

Pandemic restrictions have been stricter in Canada than in the US, but Canadians have largely supported them. The vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and the Covid-19 death rate is one-third that of the United States.

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