Truckers snarling a key bridge between Canada and the United States over the vaccination rules defied a judge’s order to leave Friday night, with snowballing protests piling pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The days-long blockade of the Ambassador Bridge — connecting Windsor, Ontario, and the US city of Detroit — has paralyzed a key North American trade route, with Trudeau looking to resolve a crisis that has threatened to morph into a populist movement.
Protesters have defied a Canadian judge’s order to clear the suspension bridge as many others piled into the capital Ottawa — where the streets have been clogged with hundreds of big rigs for a fortnight — and copycat demonstrations as far away as France and New Zealand continued.
Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens had said a court order required the truckers to clear roads by 7:00 pm local time (0000 GMT) but their numbers continued to swell as the deadline came and went.
Two other border crossings are also blocked: the first, at Emerson, connects the province of Manitoba to North Dakota, while the second is in Alberta.
Upping the stakes, US President Joe Biden Friday reiterated his “concern” to Trudeau, telling him the blockades were having serious effects on US firms.
The actions have already had significant economic impact, with automakers forced to cut production on both sides of the border, triggering fears it could undermine Canada’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Ambassador Bridge is used daily by more than 40,000 people, along with trucks carrying $323 million worth of goods on average — about one-quarter of all Canada-US trade.
Authorities are under increasing pressure to crack down on the demonstrations that have paralyzed Ottawa.
Trudeau said all options were “on the table” for ending the protests. But speaking to reporters in the capital, he reiterated that calling in the military was a distant final resort, and “something to avoid having to do at all costs.”
“This unlawful activity has to end and it will end,” the prime minister said, adding that it was up to police to “enforce the law and protect public order.”
Ottawa police have said they are “not in a position” to end the demonstration without reinforcements.
The premier of Ontario province — which includes both Ottawa and Windsor — announced a state of emergency on Friday, threatening steep fines of up to 100,000 Canadian dollars ($80,000) and jail unless protesters end their “illegal occupation.”
Doug Ford said he understood “frustrations have reached a boiling point for many Canadians” but warned, “this is no longer a protest.”
He has accused the truckers of “targeting our lifeline for food, fuel and goods across our borders” while “trying to force a political agenda through disruption, intimidation, and chaos.”
The self-styled “Freedom Convoy” began in the country’s west in anger at requirements that truckers either be vaccinated or test and isolate when crossing the US-Canada border — but has morphed into a broader protest against pandemic health rules and Trudeau’s government.
– Protests in Paris –
Inspired by the Canadian truckers, thousands of protesters encamped on the outskirts of Paris early Saturday resumed their way to the French capital in convoys of vehicles, defying a ban by authorities who are determined to prevent any blockade of the city.
The demonstrators included opponents of Covid-19 vaccinations as well as people angry at fast-rising energy prices — in an echo of the “yellow vest” grievances that sparked widespread protests in 2018 and 2019.
Nearly 7,200 police and gendarmes “are being deployed over the next three days to enforce the ban on vehicle convoys,” Paris police headquarters said.
A makeshift camp has similarly sprung up outside New Zealand’s parliament, the scene of violent clashes earlier this week as police sought to clear anti-vaccine demonstrators.
– ‘Intimidation’ –
Ottawa is expecting another influx of protesters Saturday, with a stage set up in front of parliament and crowds growing larger than they have been in recent days, an AFP journalist said.
On Thursday evening, Ford’s government separately obtained a court order barring anyone from tapping the millions of dollars raised by the convoy through the platform GiveSendGo after their fundraising efforts on GoFundMe were terminated. The site said the campaign violated its terms of service.
Trudeau said Friday: “Canadian banks are monitoring financial activity very closely and taking action as necessary.”
But sitting across from Ottawa’s Gothic revival parliament buildings, Matt Lehner said he was “not worried.”
“We are standing up for what we believe in, we are not breaking any laws,” he told AFP, a Canadian flag hanging from the end of his hockey stick as he waited for the “thousands” of Canadians who will join the protests this weekend.