As the ongoing blockade at the Coutts, Alberta continues to snarl traffic at the main commercial border between Alberta and Montana, protesters in Ontario this week also shut down the Ambassador Bridge, Canada’s busiest land crossing, and disrupted traffic at Sarnia’s Bluewater Bridge, another key commercial link.
The demonstration in Windsor started on Monday night and according to news reports, by Wednesday about 100 people and 75 vehicles were blockading the vital corridor for supply chains on both sides of the border. The Ambassador Bridge normally handles over 8,000 trucks every day and accounts for more than a quarter of annual trade between Canada and the U.S.
Demanding the elimination of all pandemic-related vaccine mandates and public health restrictions, the protesters claim to be taking a stand against what they call “an unprecedented assault on our God given freedoms.” Organizers of the self-described “Freedom Convoy” say their aim is to let governments and authorities “know that they are our public servants and, that they’re not here to lord over us as a result of their unsubstantiated, obstinate fears.”
In a statement Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford denounced the “illegal occupation and blockade,” saying the widespread economic damage being caused was “totally unacceptable” and could not be allowed to continue.
Speaking to parliament this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that “blockages, illegal demonstrations are unacceptable, and are negatively impacting businesses and manufacturers.” Calling for them to stop, Trudeau said the protesters are “trying to blockade our economy, our democracy and our fellow citizens’ daily lives.”
After discussing the situation last night, Ford tweeted that he and Prime Minister Trudeau “will continue working together to support our police forces as they manage these situations,” adding that both agreed “this must come to an end.”
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said the city’s police department is currently negotiating with multiple groups to try to persuade them to voluntarily leave so the bridge can be fully reopened. Meanwhile, Coutts Mayor Jim Willet has asked law enforcement officers to exercise restraint in dealing with the protesters, some of whom are local residents.
Despite RCMP and police on the ground having been hampered in their efforts to remove the blockades or get protesters to disband, the federal government and provincial premiers have so far ruled out invoking the federal Emergencies Act, a “measure of last resort” that gives Ottawa sweeping powers in the event of a crisis.
Supply Chain Impact
At a news conference yesterday, Bank of Canada of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem warned that “prolonged blockages at key entry points into Canada that could start to have a measurable impact on economic activity.”
“We’ve already got a strained global supply chain. We don’t need this. Most truckers are trying to get goods in and out of Canada,” Macklem said.
American officials share those concerns, pointing to the possible impact to both the automotive and agricultural industries should disruption at the border continue. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday that the White House is closely watching the shutdown at the Ambassador Bridge and given the potential impact on workers in the industrial heartland of the U.S., President Biden “is focused on this.”
Ford, Toyota, and General Motors have all been forced to shut down plants or curtail production at their facilities in Ontario this week due to parts shortages because of disruptions at the border, resulting in “short-term layoffs” for thousands of auto workers.
Over 100,000 employees in the automotive parts, tool sector and other industry suppliers are being impacted by the protest choking bridge traffic in Windsor, said Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association.
Calling it a “brain dead move” and “literally the stupidest thing you could do,” Volpe dismissed the moral legitimacy of the “Freedom Convoy” and rejected the notion of it being a “truckers protest” given that trucker associations and large logistics companies have disavowed the blockades.
Businesses and Unions Call for Action
Earlier this week, business associations on both sides of the border ranging from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association issued a statement calling for “a swift and immediate clearing of the Windsor-Detroit Ambassador Bridge blockade and a timely re-opening of the bridge.” The group also urged governments at all levels to “work collaboratively to deliver rapid solutions to the illegal blockages of traffic”
“As our economies emerge from the impacts of the pandemic, we cannot allow any group to undermine the cross-border trade that supports families on both sides of the border,” the group said.
Unifor, which represents unionized Canadian autoworkers, denounced the protests as an “attack (on) workers’ jobs by threatening production slowdowns and additional periods of layoffs.”
“They must come to an end,” said Shane Wark, assistant to Unifor president Jerry Dias in a tweet Wednesday. “These blockades are creating added hardship on Unifor members and their families in the auto sector, following two years of extraordinary production and supply chain disruptions.”