Canadian police and protesters face off at Ambassador Bridge crossing

‘It’s of critical national importance’ that the bridge reopens, says Windsor mayor

Protesters against Covid-19 vaccine mandates are stopped by police as they block the entrance to the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. AFP.
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Dressed in winter hats, gloves and yellow vests, police in Windsor, Ontario slowly moved in on protesters blocking the Ambassador Bridge connecting Ontario to Detroit, Michigan on Saturday.

Late Friday evening an Ontario Superior Court judge issued an injunction against the protesters in Windsor, giving them until 7pm Friday to vacate the bridge, which is the busiest border crossing between the US and Canada.

Protesters ignored the injunction, setting up a tense day-long stand off with police.

“It is, I would say, of critical national importance that this border crossing be reopened,” said Drew Dilkens, the mayor of Windsor.

For six days protesters have blocked the bridge causing major financial headaches to both the Canadian and US governments.

A quarter of trade between the two countries passes over the 92-year-old bridge.

“You effectively have 200 people who are holding hostage the national economic interests of Canada but also having a big impact on US trade and US families as well,” Mr Dilkens told The National.

Mr Dilkens said Windsor had never experienced a protest so crippling and far reaching in its impact.

The mayor had been calling for provincial and federal support for several days and said he’s relieved it has finally arrived in the form of added officers from both the Ontario Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Authorities were being extremely careful in clearing protesters because of the presence of children in the crowd, he said.

The protest in Windsor is part of a trans-Canadian movement led by lorry drivers against Covid-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates.

For more than two weeks they have paralysed the Canadian capital, Ottawa.

On Saturday several thousand truckers and their supporters rallied in front of Parliament Hill, showing no signs of letting up as the demonstrations entered their third weekend.

Truck horns periodically pierced the frigid winter air, despite a court order injunction the noise pollution that has kept residents up for days. Peopled draped with Canadian flags on their backs danced in the street shouting "Freedom."

“This is like Canada Day on steroids, the amount of energy and positivity,” said Richard Graham.

The tooling manager for a manufacturing company in Ontario, said he was frustrated by all the restrictions that were impeding on his daily life. “I can't travel, I can’t cross the border,” he told The National.

While Mr Graham is not vaccinated, others were. Mike Scott, drove in for the weekend from his home near Barrie, Ontario, a five hour drive.

Mr Scott said he was against forcing people to get vaccinated despite getting both shots himself.

Police have maintained a relatively low profile throughout the more than two weeks ordeal in Ottawa with the chief of police saying he needs at least 1,800 more officers to be able to properly control what politicians are now calling a siege.

But the low profile may also be in part by design, as police don’t want to antagonise the crowds.

“We've learned that a strong show of force in the initial outset of these types of incidents only escalates the force, and it makes it more difficult to move these people along because you have lost the ability to communicate with them on an equal power base,” said Scott Blandford, assistant professor and program coordinator for public safety and policing programs at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.

At this point, this situation has moved well beyond a police matter. This is a political matter.
Scott Blandford, assistant professor at Wilfrid Laurier University

Mr Blandford, who spent 30 years as a police officer in Canada, said unlike the situation in Windsor, Ottawa will likely drag on for some time as it presents a set of quandaries for officers as they have to navigate in a dense urban environment and are dealing with both people and massive vehicles.

“At this point, this situation has moved well beyond a police matter,” Mr Blandford told The National. “This is a political matter.”

He said the occupation of Ottawa would only end through negotiation as the protesters appear to be fully entrenched in the Canadian Capital.

Updated: February 12, 2022, 10:50 PM