Rob Gillis and Corey Williams
Windsor, Ontario (AP) – The busiest border crossing between the United States and Canada reopened late Sunday after protests against COVID-19 restrictions closed it for nearly a week, while Canadian officials refrained from dispersing a larger protest in the capital of Ottawa.
Detroit International Bridge Co. said in a statement that “the Ambassador Bridge is now fully open, which again allows free trade between the economies of Canada and the United States.” Esther Gentzen, a spokeswoman for the company, said in a later text to the Associated Press that the bridge reopened to traffic at 11pm EST.
Typically, the transition accounts for 25% of all trade between the two countries, and the blockade on the Canadian side disrupted business in both countries, and automakers were forced to close several assembly plants.
Earlier in the day, police in Windsor, Ontario, said more than two dozen people had been peacefully arrested, seven vehicles towed and five confiscated as officers cleared the last protesters near the bridge that connects the city – and many Canadian car plants – with Detroit.
Meanwhile, a protest in Ottawa has paralyzed downtown, angered residents who are fed up with police inaction, and put pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who chaired a cabinet meeting late Sunday.
A senior government official said Trudeau plans to meet Monday morning with Canadian provincial heads. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, as he had no right to speak in public.
Demonstrations unfolded across Canada and beyond, with similar convoys in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has warned that convoys of trucks may be operating in the United States.
The ambassadorial bridge remained closed for most of the day, despite the fact that the protests had stopped as a heavy snowstorm covered the area. Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said the gap will open as soon as authorities recognize it is safe.
Canadian Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne welcomed the development, saying on Twitter: “Good news. I am glad to see that the Ambassador Bridge is now open again. “
The administration of US President Joe Biden on Sunday acknowledged a seemingly peaceful solution to the demonstration, which she said had a “broadly devastating impact” on “people’s lives and livelihoods” on both sides of the border.
“We stand ready to support our Canadian partners wherever it is helpful to ensure the resumption of normal free trade,” said Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randall, national security adviser.
In Ottawa, about 500 miles northeast of Windsor, Mayor Jim Watson said Sunday that the city has struck a deal with protesters who have delayed downtown streets for more than two weeks, allowing them to leave residential areas in the next 24 hours.
Watson said he agreed to meet with the protesters if they limit their protest to the area around Parliament Hill and pull their trucks and other cars out of residential neighborhoods by noon Monday.
The mayor shared a letter from one of the organizers of the protest, Tamara Leach, in which she said that the demonstrators “agree with your request” to focus on Parliament Hill. But Leach later denied the deal, saying on Twitter: “No deal has been made. We are ending mandates, we are ending passports. That’s why we’re here. “
Watson in his letter to the protesters added that residents are “exhausted” and “on the border” because of the demonstrations, and warns that some businesses are teetering on the brink of final closure due to disruptions.
Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Saturday, removing some 4,000 protesters by truck.
Clayton Goodwin, a 45-year-old military veteran who was among the protesters, said it was time for residents to stand up against the protesters.
“I’m horrified that other veterans will be down there, co-opting my flag, co-opting my service,” said Goodwin, who is the director general of the Veterans Liability Commission, a nonprofit advocacy group. “It’s a theft. The city was free. We are 92% vaccinated. We are ready to support our business. “
Colin Sinclair, another counter-protester, said the protesters had enough time to listen to their discontent and they should move on – with police help when it comes down to it.
“They are occupiers. People are afraid to go to work, they are too afraid to leave their homes, ”she said. “It’s not how your voice is heard. This is domestic terrorism, and we want you out of our city. Go home. “
Last weekend, the city saw a similar increase in protests, and loud music was played as people hid in the city center, where vaccine protesters have been stationed since late January, much to the disappointment of locals.
“It’s just a feeling that I live in another country, like in the States,” said Shannon Thomas, a 32-year-old teacher. “I’m just sad to see all these people waving Canadian flags and behaving like patriots when it’s really the saddest and most embarrassing I’ve ever seen.”
Trudeau has so far rejected calls to use military force, but said “all options are on the table” to end the protests. Trudeau called the protesters a “country” of Canadian society. Both federal and provincial politicians have said they cannot order the police what to do.
Major General Steve Boywin, commander of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, said Sunday that two members of his special forces support the protests in Ottawa and are in the “process of liberation” from service. Boyvin said the activity was contrary to the values and ethics of the military.
On Friday, a judge ruled to end the blockade at the crossing in Windsor and Ontario. Prime Minister Doug Ford has declared a state of emergency involving fines of $ 100,000 and up to one year in prison for illegally blocking roads, bridges, sidewalks and other critical infrastructure.
The partial closure of the bridge began on February 7, and by mid-week the failures were so severe that automakers began to suspend or cut production. The confrontation came at a time when the industry is already struggling to maintain production amid a shortage of computer chips and other disruptions in supply chains caused by the pandemic.
“We are protesting against the government’s deprivation of our rights,” said Windsor resident Eunice Lucas-Logan. “We want to lift the restrictions. We have to wait to find out. “
The 67-year-old man has been supporting the protest for the last four days. She said she appreciated that the police were patient.
On the other side of the country, a major truck border crossing between Surey, British Columbia, and Blaine, Washington, was closed Sunday, the day after Canadian authorities said several vehicles had broken through police barricades and crowds entered district on foot.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said four people were arrested Sunday afternoon for “mischief” during a protest. Some people who stayed overnight packed up and left, but the border crossing and roads in the area remained closed.
The border blockade, which began Jan. 29 in Couts, Alberta, north of St. Grass, Montana, also remained in place. Police issued more than 50 coupons on Saturday and continued to issue them on Sunday, Corporal RCMP said. Said Troy Savinkov.
Officers also intercepted and disabled three excavators carrying them to the protest, Savinkov said.
“If they broke through to the blockade, it would only worsen the unfortunate situation we face at the border,” he said.
While protesters condemn the use of vaccines for truckers and other restrictions against COVID-19, many Canadian public health measures, such as mask rules and vaccine passports for entry to restaurants and theaters, are already receding as the Omicron surge decreases.
About 90% of truckers in Canada are vaccinated, and truckers’ associations and many major drilling operators are condemning the protests. In the US, the same vaccination rules apply to truckers crossing the border, so it would make no difference if Trudeau lifted the restriction.
The restrictions on the pandemic were much tougher there than in the United States, but Canadians largely supported them. The vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and the death rate from COVID-19 is one-third higher than in the United States.
Meanwhile, Biden in an interview with NBC’s Leicester Holt on the eve of the Super Bowl expressed a critical tone when asked about those who are likely to object to the mask’s mandate at the NFL Championship game.
“I like the way people talk about personal freedom,” he said. “If you enjoy personal freedom, but endanger someone else, their health, I don’t think it’s very good with freedom.”
Gillis reported from Toronto. Associated Press authors Ted Shafri of Ottawa, Ontario, and Gene Johnson of Seattle contributed to this report.