While Windsor police said vehicles are beginning to be ticketed and towed, around 200 protesters gathered near the bridge into Saturday afternoon and evening, effectively continuing to block Canada’s busiest crossing into the U.S.
Police began moving in on protesters Saturday afternoon by creating a line backed up by two armoured RCMP vehicles and a number of cruisers. Some RCMP officers carrying guns were on standby. Tactical teams and snipers were also present.
It forced the protesters away from the bridge, but authorities hit a stand-still when they came face-to-face with hundreds of demonstrators fed up with COVID-19 restrictions, with more joining in.
Police halted their advance and by late afternoon, hundreds of protesters continued to occupy a stretch of road near the bridge despite warnings of arrest or vehicles being towed.
“We are opening up this intersection to traffic. If you fail to comply with our instructions you will be arrested,” police told the crowd via a loudspeaker.
Windsor police’s efforts to clear the blockade began early Saturday morning and succeeded in having some protesters leave.
Protesters closest to the bridge were seen moving back peacefully. Several were seen dismantling tents and packing up barbecues.
However, as became apparent later in the day, some were unwilling to leave. They are either in trucks or on foot, carrying Canadian flags and occasionally shouting “freedom.”
“Let’s go Windsor,” one supporter called over a channel on a messaging application used by the demonstrators. “Hold that line.”
It was the fifth day the bridge had no traffic flowing as dozens of trucks, cars, pickups and vans blocked traffic in both directions, choking the supply chain for Detroit’s carmakers.
The number of protesters had thinned from about 200 on Friday night to hardly two dozen by early Saturday.
In a ruling late Friday afternoon, a judge gave the protesters until 7 p.m. to clear out in an injunction. Crowds continued to grow after that time.
“The activities that are the subject of this injunction, the freedom that those want directly results in the denial of freedom to others in society. The direct denial of their freedom to work. The direct denial of their freedom to cross and to move goods and services across the bridge,” Ontario Superior Court Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz said before delivering his ruling.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a state of emergency in the province earlier on Friday in response to the blockade in Windsor and another protest that’s immobilized Ottawa’s downtown core for nearly two weeks.
Ford said he will enact orders making it “crystal clear” that it is illegal and punishable to block and impede the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure.
On Friday evening, the Windsor police distributed flyers that warned protesters that Ontario’s state of emergency will take effect at midnight.
It is “illegal and punishable to block and impede the movements of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure,” the flyer read.
What's next for the 'Freedom Convoy'
The so-called “Freedom Convoy,” started by a group of people opposing COVID-19 vaccine and quarantine mandates for cross-border drivers, rolled into Ottawa on Jan. 28.
The protests, entered their 16th day on Saturday, have inspired similar convoys across the country, as well as demonstrations in the United States, France, New Zealand and Australia.
In Paris, French police fired tear gas at demonstrators on the Champs Elysees avenue Saturday shortly after a convoy carrying protesters against COVID-19 restrictions made it into the capital.
The protests within Canada have spread to three border points: the Ambassador Bridge — clogging trade between U.S.A. and Canada — and two smaller crossings in Alberta and Manitoba.
More protests were held on Saturday as people gathered in Fredericton, N.B., for a weekend demonstration. Local police officers have been stationed at entrances to the city to ensure traffic can flow freely.
Toronto is also bracing for a second weekend of protests. Police have expanded the road closures in downtown and warned the public to expect delays and “consider alternate routes.”
A convoy of motorists in the United States is planning to head to the waterfront in Port Huron, Mich., in support of protesters in Canada. Another U.S. group said two separate vehicle convoys will converge this weekend at the Peace Bridge, another U.S.-Canadian border crossing in Buffalo, N.Y.
— with files from Global News’ Sean O’Shea, Reuters and The Canadian Press