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WINDSOR, Ontario (AP) — A judge on Friday ordered protesters at the Ambassador Bridge over the U.S.-Canadian border to end the 5-day-old blockade that has disrupted the flow of goods between the two countries and forced the auto industry on both sides to roll back production.
It was not immediately clear when or if law enforcement officers would be sent in to remove the demonstrators, who parked their pickups and other vehicles in a bumper-to-bumper protest against the country’s COVID-19 restrictions and an outpouring of fury toward Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government.
Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz of the Ontario Superior Court said during a virtual hearing that the order would be effective at 7 p.m. to give protesters time to leave.
Since Monday, drivers mostly in pickup trucks have bottled up the bridge connecting Windsor to Detroit. Hundreds more truckers have paralyzed downtown Ottawa over the past two weeks. And protesters have also blocked two other border crossings, in Alberta and Manitoba.
State of emergency declared
Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency Friday for the province as opponents to Canada’s mask and vaccine mandates continued to block the Ambassador Bridge, which is the busiest international land crossing in North America and is responsible for 25% of all trade between the U.S. and Canada.
The so-called Freedom Convoy pledged to remain in place so long as Canada’s pandemic public health orders remain intact.
Ford issued a stern message Friday.
“So to the protesters, I say we’ve heard you and it’s time to go. To the auto workers, truckers and all those affected by the Ambassador Bridge closure: I say we will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the borders reopen,” Ford says.
He says Canadians have a right to voice their dissent, but it’s illegal to block the flow of goods between the two countries.
“Fines for non-compliance will be severe, with a maximum penalty of $100,000 and up to a year imprisonment,” he says.
“So to the protesters, I say we’ve heard you and it’s time to go. To the auto workers, truckers and all those affected by the Ambassador Bridge closure: I say we will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the borders reopen.” —Ontario Premier Doug Ford
Ford is authorizing the confiscation of personal and commercial licenses for those blocking Ontario’s roadways. Ontario officials were able to get a court order Thursday to freeze the distribution of donations raised through online fundraising for the protesters in Windsor and Ottawa. Many of the donations came from conservatives in the U.S. who are also championing the anti-vaccination cause.
“It will provide additional tools to help stop the illegal occupation of Ottawa and the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor,” Ford says.
Sylvia Jones is Ontario’s solicitor general overseeing law enforcement and public safety. She says the protests have put the community in danger.
“We want to make sure that people can safely go to work, access their homes, access their businesses,” Jones says. “And unfortunately, in Ottawa and in Windsor, that is not happening right now. So we are doing that with this declaration.”
Auto manufacturers have cut back on production this week to deal with parts shortages resulting from the blockade.
Republican gubernatorial candidate James Craig, who led the arrests of hundreds of BLM protesters as the head of the Detroit Police Department, expressed his support for the protesters causing the blockade.
“I stand with the truckers,” he wrote in a statement. “I support all working people who are standing up for personal freedom. What we are seeing is a tremendous lack of leadership from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Joe Biden and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Instead of focusing on the protestors and demonizing the truckers, these career politicians should be focused on how their irresponsible pandemic response is hurting our economies.”
This week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other U.S. officials urged their Canadian counterparts to reopen the border.
“The blockade is having a significant impact on Michigan’s working families who are just trying to do their jobs. Our communities and automotive, manufacturing, and agriculture businesses are feeling the effects. It’s hitting paychecks and production lines. That is unacceptable,” Whitmer wrote in a statement. “It is imperative that Canadian local, provincial, and national governments de-escalate this economic blockade. They must take all necessary and appropriate steps to immediately and safely reopen traffic so we can continue growing our economy, supporting good-paying jobs, and lowering costs for families.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.