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U.S. pressures Canadian authorities to end border blockades

Protestors and supporters set up at a blockade at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge, sealing off the flow of commercial traffic over the bridge into Canada from Detroit, on February 10, 2022 in Windsor, Canada.
Cole Burston | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The Canadian government is coming under increasing pressure from the United States to resolve anti-vaccine mandate protests that are impacting the economy in both countries with border blockades, including a 5-day shutdown of the vital Ambassador Bridge.

The “Freedom Convoy” by Canadian truckers opposing a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, mirrored by the U.S. government, began with the occupation of the Canadian capital, Ottawa. The truckers then blocked the Ambassador Bridge earlier this week, and shut down two other smaller border crossings.

The closure of the bridge, North America’s busiest international land border crossing and a key supply route for Detroit’s carmakers, has halted some auto output and left officials scrambling to limit economic damage.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Friday said she has been pushing the Canadian government to get the protest under control and that the bridge blockade was hurting her state.

“The Canadian government has to do whatever it takes to safely and swiftly resolve this,” Whitmer told CNN in an interview.

The Biden administration on Thursday urged Canada to use federal powers to ease the disruption.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was working with municipal leaders to end the blockade. Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said federal police forces would be deployed to Windsor, near the bridge, and to Ottawa.

Mendicino is scheduled to speak with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Friday, his office confirmed. Ontario’s provincial government was also expected to make an announcement about the protests on Friday.

Police in Windsor, Ontario, which borders Detroit, said they had received additional resources from outside jurisdictions to “support a peaceful resolution to the current demonstration at and near the Ambassador Bridge.”

In Ottawa, the epicenter of the protests, police were waiting on Thursday for a request for provincial and federal reinforcements to be completed. They have made 25 arrests so far. City police chief Peter Sloly expects the reinforcements to arrive in the next 48 hours ahead of a potential rise in protesters in the city over the weekend.

“This is an entirely sophisticated level of demonstrators. They have the capability to run strong organization here provincially and nationally, and we’re seeing that play out in real time,” Sloly told reporters.

Canada sends 75% of its exports to the United States and the bridge usually handles 8,000 trucks a day, representing a quarter of all cross-border trade, or about C$500 million ($392.56 million) per day.

About C$100 million worth of auto parts cross the border each day, with many shipments timed to arrive just as manufacturers need them.

General Motors, Ford Motor, Chrysler parent Stellantis and Toyota Motor have been impacted by the blockades.

While officials at the federal, provincial and municipal levels have held regular meetings, they have had limited impact on the ground.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens has sought an injunction from the Ontario Superior Court to have the protesters at the bridge removed, adding that he was striving to resolve the issue peacefully and ensure that nobody gets hurt.

As many pandemic-weary Western countries near the two-year mark on coronavirus restrictions, copycat protests have spread to Australia, New Zealand and France, although the wave of infections caused by the highly infectious Omicron variant has begun to subside in some places.

($1 = 1.2737 Canadian dollars)

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