U.S. And Canadian Authorities Say Key Bridge Will Reopen, But ‘Freedom Convoy’ Protesters Remain


OTTAWA – The White House said Sunday that it expects Canada to reopen a vital border crossing after Canadian police cleared the blockade by the self-styled “Freedom Convoy,” which continued to disrupt other cities and trade routes and illegally occupy the country’s capital for a third week.

The six-day closure of the road between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit – North America’s busiest land border crossing – disrupted U.S. supply chains and millions of dollars in trade. On Sunday evening, Canadian police were still preventing access to the Ambassador Bridge on the Canadian side as several demonstrators reportedly remained in the area.

The White House issued a statement Sunday afternoon from homeland security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall saying that “Canadian authorities intend to reopen” the bridge Sunday “after completing necessary safety checks.”

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It was not clear Sunday evening when that would take place.

“Our national economic crisis at the Ambassador Bridge came to an end,” Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens declared on Twitter.

But the appeal of such demonstrations spreading across Canada and in Australia and European capitals had not let up Sunday. The saga’s developments included a tentative deal that Ottawa’s mayor said he brokered for protesters to be less disruptive, made with a loosely grouped movement without central leadership. Fed-up residents in Ottawa and other cities have started taking matters into their own hands by trying to thwart protesters after disruptions that began more than two weeks ago.

Canadian officials have been caught flat-footed after a convoy of truck drivers opposed to vaccine mandates illegally parked by Parliament on Jan. 28 and kicked off a global movement of people fed up with pandemic policies, angry at their governments, and, in some cases, driven by extremist views and calls for insurrection. Demonstrations from New Zealand to France have adopted the tactics and slogans of the Canadian convoys, mounting challenges to authorities and police as threats of punishment appear to not deter many demonstrators.

Police efforts to disrupt the Windsor convoys was the most robust move yet taken by Canadian law enforcement, which is facing mounting pressure to do more to disperse the big rigs and highly organized protest sites paralyzing the capital.

In Ottawa, well-funded Freedom Convoy protesters have remained despite being threatened with fines, prison time and the loss of their licenses. Though local and provincial officials declared states of emergency, loud dance parties with illegal fireworks and alcohol raged in the blockaded streets throughout the weekend as police largely stood by.

Police have aimed to contain protests and minimize harm to police and residents, but “it doesn’t work . . . where the organizers have the objective of being as disruptive as possible to Canadian government and economy until their political demands are met,” said Michael Kempa, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa.

Ottawa police have cited the presence of children, who they say are in about 100 of the 400 trucks parked in the city, as a major concern. Highly combustible red and yellow cans of fuel for trucks and heaters are also constantly circulating throughout Ottawa’s “red zone” of blockaded streets.

On Sunday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he had reached a tentative agreement with a key protest organizer to remove trucks from residential areas, and to limit vehicles to a perimeter near Parliament downtown in exchange for a meeting.

Tamara Lich, president of Freedom Convoy 2022, one of the organizing bodies for the protests, told Watson in a letter dated Feb. 12 and released Sunday that organizers “will be working hard over the next 24 hours to get buy in from the truckers.”

Watson said he would meet with Lich and her group if there was “clear evidence” by noon Monday that his requests were being met.

While highly organized, there are several factions among the demonstrators, and it remains unclear whether the deal will be broadly accepted.

Watson said on CTV News Ottawa that residents downtown “need a reprieve from the horror and the hell that they’ve been through over the course of the last coming up to three weeks” – including horn-honking, catcalling and “diesel-spewing all night,” he said.

Watson said the truckers involved would not get “special treatment” and would have to pay any tickets they have accrued. On Sunday evening, the city released a statement urging residents to avoid nonessential travel downtown, where many public facilities were to be closed.

Some Ottawa residents on social media criticized the deal as effectively permitting the convoys, which the mayor’s office denied was the intent.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also faced criticism for not mobilizing more federal resources to aid Ottawa’s overwhelmed government and police.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said the federal government was considering invoking the never-before-used Emergencies Act of 1988, which gives the federal government broad powers subject to Parliament’s approval.

“The closing of our borders, the targeting of critical infrastructure, particularly our points of entry by the people behind these protests, is a significant national security threat to this country, and we have to do what is necessary to end it,” Blair told Canada’s CTV.

Canada and the United States have denounced the border disruptions as harmful to trade, industry and local communities. Car manufacturers, including Toyota and Ford, have reduced some nearby operations in recent days, citing disruptions to the delivery of necessary manufacturing parts.

Disruptions have also plagued other vital cross-border arteries – including the one from Coutts, Alberta, which connects to Montana, and from Surrey in British Columbia to Washington state.

The White House said Sunday that both countries have discussed the “imperative of taking swift, strong action and deterring future blockade.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has called these blockades a “siege” and declared a provincial state of emergency on Friday, warning protesters of “severe” consequences, including fines up to U.S. $78,500 and prison terms.

In Windsor, police on Friday began to enforce an injunction ordering truckers and their supporters to leave and ticketed and towed vehicles. But a defiant core of about two dozen protesters remained on foot as temperatures dropped below freezing. Early Sunday, police began moving in on crowds near the bridge, closed since last Monday.

Windsor Police Chief Pam Mizuno told reporters Sunday that there had been 25 to 30 arrests and that no one had been injured “as a result of any police interaction.” Five vehicles were towed Saturday and seven Sunday.

“We’re still working to restore traffic flow in the area and open the bridge,” she said. “Of course, there will be notifications made once that happens, but we need to ensure that we’ll be able to maintain the traffic flow, so we can’t open the bridge until we continue with what we’re planning.”

In Facebook groups, Telegram channels and right-wing media, the Freedom Convoy in Canada has continued to inspire protests around the world.

Across the Atlantic, protesters temporarily blocked the Champs-Élysées, a central artery in Paris, on Saturday, despite an order banning them from entering the capital. Local outlets reported Sunday morning that police had made at least 97 arrests.

In Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, people inspired by the Canadian protesters blocked an area outside Parliament for the sixth day on Sunday, and officials attempted to use sprinklers and songs including “Baby Shark” to diffuse the protest, to no avail.

Back in North America, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Surrey, British Columbia, southeast of Vancouver, said Sunday evening that four people were taken into custody for “mischief” at protests near the Pacific Highway border crossing near Blaine, Wash. A police statement said “some of the vehicles and protesters who stayed overnight Saturday have now packed up and left the area,” but the crossing remained closed, with law enforcement blocking the border area.

Counterprotests in recent days also have grown.

On Friday, the city of Ottawa, responding to frustrated residents, filed an injunction against demonstrators violating city bylaws.

For the second straight day Sunday, counterprotests popped up in Ottawa, where residents braved frigid temperatures to block two major intersections about four miles from Parliament Hill to prevent dozens of vehicles – primarily pickup trucks – from joining the downtown protest.

Frustrated residents chanted “Whose streets? Our streets” and “Go home!”

The message on one man’s sign was simple: “Make Ottawa boring again.”

(c) 2022, The Washington Post · Miriam Berger, Amanda Coletta, Annabelle Timsit, Bryan Pietsch 



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