Canadian protesters block the busiest international crossing in North America as tensions ramp up over COVID-19 rules
(CNN) — Canadian protesters have impeded access to the busiest international crossing in North America again Tuesday, escalating tensions as frustration over demonstrations against COVID-19 rules continues to roil the nation.
After idling trucks and vehicles snarled roadways in major Canadian cities over the weekend, “Freedom Convoy” drivers hindered travel Monday at the Ambassador Bridge that links Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit. Canadian-bound traffic was still shut down Tuesday morning, Michigan officials tweeted, while US-bound traffic was flowing with limited bridge access, Windsor Police and 511Ontario tweeted.
Protests also blocked traffic overnight Monday at an access point between Alberta and Montana, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said, further threatening supply chain disruptions. No delays were reported Tuesday morning at most Canada Border Services Agency land crossings, the agency’s website showed.
The bold move at North America’s busiest international crossing signals a ratcheting up of demonstrations that have rocked the country and galvanized thousands against its leadership.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, emerging Monday from a weeklong isolation after testing positive for the coronavirus, echoed residents and officials aggravated by the demonstrations, which began Jan. 29 as an objection to a vaccine mandate requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully vaccinated or face testing and quarantine requirements.
More protesters have since joined to rail against mask mandates, lockdowns, restrictions on gatherings and other efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19. Some have vowed not to leave until certain COVID-19 measures are rescinded, they’ve told CNN.
“Individuals are trying to blockade our economy, our democracy and our fellow citizens’ daily lives. It has to stop,” Trudeau said Monday during an emergency parliamentary debate in Ottawa.
Canada’s capital city has endured widespread turmoil, including blaring horns on downtown streets and businesses forced to close temporarily. More than 60 criminal investigations are underway there, as claims of hate crimes, rock-throwing and property damage were reported, police said Sunday. At least 450 citations were issued over the weekend, they said.
“We have been 100% full-out on this for the last 10 days straight, and we will not rest until it’s done, but we need more help,” Police Chief Peter Sloly said Monday, appealing to all levels of government and noting his department asked the mayor’s office for a “significant increase” in resources.
Many in Ottawa are at their “breaking point,” Sloly said.
“This is crushing for those residents and their businesses. It has to stop, and we are doing everything we can possibly do to stop it,” he said. “We need more help.”
Protests notwithstanding, nearly 90% of Canada’s truckers are fully vaccinated and eligible to cross the border, the Canadian government said. Demonstrators represent a “small, fringe minority,” Trudeau said, and his government does not expect the vaccine mandate to significantly affect supply chains.
Just over 80% of Canadians in all are vaccinated, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Bridge traffic backed up for miles
Police worked Monday to restore the orderly flow of traffic due to interruptions at the exit from the Ambassador Bridge onto Huron Church Road, Windsor Police said.
“Avoid the area or find alternate route, if possible,” police said, calling traffic flow “temporarily interrupted.”
“Our officers continue to work hard to keep the flow of traffic moving along Huron Church Rd., as well as ensuring order and public safety. … We encourage everyone to be patient and respectful,” Windsor Police said on Twitter.
Windsor Police posted a photo online earlier in the day showing a long line of trucks appearing to be at a standstill. They also warned of travel delays and a high potential for traffic congestion, and asked “those involved not to endanger members of the public.”
Access to the bridge from the US side of the border was closed, the Michigan Department of Transportation said Monday night.
“The freeway traffic trying to get across the bridge is backed up on multiple roadways and for miles,” agency spokeswoman Diane Cross told CNN.
More than 40,000 commuters, tourists and truck drivers cross the Ambassador Bridge each day, according to its website.
Seeking a ‘permanent, sustainable, lawful’ outcome
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has declared a state of emergency in response to the protests, and most businesses downtown have closed or reduced their hours because of the unrest.
“No officers are on days off, everyone has been working,” Sloly said Monday. “We are stretched to the limit, but we are 100% committed to using everything we have to end this demonstration. We cannot do it alone.
“That’s why I have been advocating for all three levels of government to bring whatever they can bring to bear on the permanent, sustainable, lawful, safe resolution of this demonstration.”
With protesters parked in trucks right outside the building, Trudeau on Monday acknowledged they had a right to voice their concerns but said residents do not deserve to be harassed in their own neighborhoods.
“This pandemic has sucked for all Canadians, but Canadians know the way to get through it is continuing to listen to science, continuing to lean on each other, continuing to be there for each other,” he said after underscoring that Canadians are tired of COVID-19 health restrictions.
Conservative opposition leader Candice Bergen accused the Prime Minister of dividing Canadians and asked if Trudeau regretted calling the protesters “names,” regarding his earlier “small, fringe minority” comments.
“Does he regret calling people names who didn’t take the vaccine? Does he regret calling people misogynistic and racists and just escalating and poking sticks at them?” Bergen asked in parliament.
Trudeau responded by saying most Canadians trust each other to do the right things when it comes to following science.
“This is the story of a country that got through this pandemic by being united, and a few people shouting and waving swastikas does not define who Canadians are,” he said.
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