Officials in the City of Windsor say they will be requesting assistance from the provincial and federal governments as a protest against COVID-19 measures continues to block Canada-bound traffic on the Ambassador Bridge.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens and Chief of Police Pam Mizuno held a press conference Wednesday updating the response to the demonstration that has entered its third day.
“As you are aware, over the past 48 hours the Ambassador Bridge has been impacted by protesters in a manner very similar to what has transpired on Parliament Hill,” Dilkens said.
“The difference here, however, is the significant impact on the busiest national border crossing in North America and of course locally on our own economy in Windsor-Essex.”
Dilkens said he has spoken to provincial and federal officials over the past 24 hours and are “formally requesting additional resources,” though didn’t provide specifics as to what exactly is being requested.
“While we are hopeful this situation can be resolved in the near-term, we need to plan for a protracted protest and have requested additional personnel to be deployed to Windsor to support our hard-working members of the police service,” Dilkens said.
He said his office has received numerous complaints and calls from residents and businesses requesting that the protesters be “forcibly removed.”
“While it may be gratifying for some to see the forced removal of the demonstrators, such action may inflame the situation and certainly cause more folks to come here and add to the protest and we don’t want to risk additional conflict,” he said.
“It is important to remember that we cannot ask our police services to risk the safety of all involved.”
He said the focus right now is on de-escalation and maintaining security.
Mizuno told reporters that there are approximately 50 to 70 vehicles involved in the demonstration and around 100 protesters.
She said officers are taking a “diplomatic approach” and trying to negotiate a resolution.
She added that discussions are what led to the opening of the northbound lanes of the bridge.
“Today, I will be forwarding a request to both provincial and federal officials looking to attain shared resources as we need them, in the form of personnel and equipment. We rely on all levels of government to assist in resolving these protests peacefully,” Mizuno said.
She said protesters are allowing emergency vehicles through as needed but warned that sudden road closures could impact emergency services.
Dilkens said that the protest is “holding hostage part of our national economy” and cannot be allowed to last long.
“In a democracy, everyone has the right to protest peacefully. It’s part of what makes Canada great,” he said.
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“But the economic and social harm that these protests are having here in Windsor and Ottawa and across Canada is quite significant. The resolution to this will require a whole of government approach, with leadership required from Ottawa and Queen’s Park to bring down the temperature and resolve these protests peacefully.”
Leo Lucio said he had spent the better part of the past three days at the protest in Windsor, which is happening not far from his home. He said recently returned from the protest in Ottawa, which caused that city’s mayor to declare a state of emergency.
“It’s a choke hold, that’s what I call it,” Lucio told The Canadian Press in a phone interview of the blockade at the Ambassador Bridge. “Cutting the head off the snake and the snake being (federal) Liberal party.”
Lucio said the protest isn’t just about federal vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers. He would also like to see provincial pandemic restrictions gone and help for workers.
“It’s the cost of living and everything else with it,” he said. “It’s a failure upon all levels of government.”
Demonstration also leads to partial closure of highway near Sarnia, Ont.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Provincial Police said a part westbound Highway 402 in southern Ontario was closed Wednesday due to convoy demonstrations.
Police said the westbound lanes of the highway at Nauvoo Road were shut down due to “high traffic volumes” from “freedom convoy” demonstrators.
Drivers in the area are being asked to follow emergency detour route signage.
“The OPP respects the right of everyone to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” police said.
“The OPP asks everyone to be patient and respectful of each other despite potential inconvenience.”
The closure is approximately 45 km away from the Blue Water Bridge crossing between Canada and the United States in Sarnia, Ont. There, bridge itself remained open.
Part of Highway 402 was blocked on Sunday as well due to convoy demonstrations.
Police have redirected commercial traffic to the Bluewater Bridge in Sarnia, Ont., and urged motorists to avoid the area around the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor.
A large lineup of vehicles could be seen attempting to enter Canada via the Blue Water Bridge.
Provincial, federal officials react
Federal and provincial officials reacted to the blockade in Windsor Wednesday.
“We’re continuing to work with our provincial counterparts and the City of Windsor,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
“We need to stop the blockage of supply chains. Jobs are being affected.”
Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said the Ambassador Bridge is a “vital artery” to the country.
“I believe the rule of law has to be upheld. It is the responsibility of police to do that,” Blair said.
“We’ve seen many instances here of lawbreaking here and we will not direct the police, but we certainly have every expectation they will do their job.”
Premier Doug Ford released a statement which said that the “illegal occupation and blockade happening in Ontario must stop.”
“The Ambassador Bridge is one of the most vital trade corridors in our country,” Ford said.
“The damage this is causing to our economy, to people’s jobs and their livelihoods is totally unacceptable. We cannot let this continue.”
The premier said he has spoken with both the mayors of Windsor and Sarnia and added that the province is ready to provide any support it can offer.
“I remain confident that our police forces in Ontario, along with Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian Border Services Agency, will take the appropriate steps to address the evolving situations in our cities and bring them to an end,” Ford said.
One arrest made
In a tweet just after 8 p.m., Windsor Police said a man had been arrested in connection with the protests.
Officers said a man was arrested for allegedly “driving in a manner that is dangerous to public safety.”
“We urge everyone involved in the protest not to endanger members of the public or engage in illegal activities,” the tweet reads. “Public safety remains our priority.”
— With files from Amanda Connolly, Hannah Jackson and The Canadian Press