Ambassador Bridge border crossing remains closed as police arrest several protesters

Click to play video: 'Trucker protests: Police clear protesters from Ambassador Bridge, will reopen when it’s safe'
Trucker protests: Police clear protesters from Ambassador Bridge, will reopen when it’s safe
WATCH: Police in Windsor, Ont. on Sunday weren't asking anti-COVID-19 mandate protesters to leave. They were telling them. Police cleared the protesters in an effort to reopen the Ambassador Bridge, which remains closed and will only reopen when it is safe to do so. Sean O'Shea reports – Feb 13, 2022

Police made several arrests as they cleared out protesters and vehicles blockading the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., but the bridge was not yet open to traffic on Sunday.

Dozens of trucks, cars, pickups and vans have blocked traffic in both directions at Canada’s busiest border crossing to the U.S. for several days. By Sunday morning, the trucks and remaining protesters were greeted by a heavy police presence, with more than 50 vehicles, including cruisers, buses and an armoured car.

The number of protesters had dropped to around 45 from roughly 100 on Saturday.

Click to play video: 'Trucker protests: Police remove blockade in Windsor, Ont. make arrest'
Trucker protests: Police remove blockade in Windsor, Ont. make arrest

Windsor police did not provide a timeline of when the bridge will reopen. Chief Pamela Mizuno said Sunday afternoon that steps need to be taken to ensure a new blockade doesn’t form and police are still working on “operational plans.”

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“[Authorities] can’t open the bridge until we continue what we’re planning,” she said, but noted that police made a “huge step in the right direction.”

Mizuno said there have been a total of 25 to 30 arrests made for criminal mischief and a total of 12 vehicles have been seized over the past two days.

She said she isn’t aware of any injuries as a result of police interaction and there will be “zero tolerance” for any activity in the area.

Windsor police had warned in a tweet that “there will be zero tolerance for illegal activity.”

They urged the public to avoid the area.

Click to play video: 'Trucker protests: ‘Huge step in right direction,’ Windsor, Ont. police chief says of clearing Ambassador Bridge'
Trucker protests: ‘Huge step in right direction,’ Windsor, Ont. police chief says of clearing Ambassador Bridge

The demonstrators that blocked the bridge are part of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” that is protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates and quarantine rules for cross-border truck drivers.

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Police and protesters had appeared to hit a stand-off on Saturday as people continued to occupy a stretch of road near the bridge despite warnings of arrest or vehicles being towed.

In an injunction late Friday afternoon, a judge gave the protesters until 7 p.m. to clear out the area, but it was largely ignored.

Police walk the line to remove all truckers and supporters from the Ambassador Bridge, linking Detroit and Windsor, Ont., Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a state of emergency in the province on Friday in response to the blockade in Windsor and another protest that’s immobilized Ottawa’s downtown core for nearly two weeks.

That evening, the Windsor police distributed flyers that warned protesters that Ontario’s state of emergency would 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.

Ford praised police officials for bringing a “peaceful end to the illegal blockade” on Sunday.

“For those still there, you have been heard and it’s time to go,” he said in a tweet.

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‘Economic crisis’ is over, mayor says

For the past five days, there has been no traffic flowing on the Ambassador Bridge, choking the supply chain for Detroit’s carmakers.

In a statement on Sunday, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said: “Today, our national economic crisis at the Ambassador Bridge came to an end.”

“Border crossings will reopen when it is safe to do so and I defer to police and border agencies to make that determination,” he added.

The Ambassador Bridge is among four border points disrupted by the protests as demonstrations spread to crossings in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba.

On Thursday, the Biden administration had urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to use its federal powers to end the truck blockade, as the bumper-to-bumper demonstration forced auto plants on both sides of the border to shut down or scale back production.

“We stand ready to support our Canadian partners wherever useful in order to ensure the restoration of the normal free flow of commerce,” White House Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall said in a statement.

Ottawa mayor strikes deal with protesters

In Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson said Sunday the city struck a deal with protesters who have jammed downtown streets for more than two weeks that will see them move out of residential areas in the next 24 hours.

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Watson said he agreed to meet with demonstrators if they confine their protest to an area around Parliament Hill and move their trucks and other vehicles out of residential neighborhoods by noon Monday. A response from protest organizers suggested they would comply.

Watson added in his letter to protesters that residents are “exhausted″ and “on edge” due to the demonstrations and warns that some businesses are teetering on the brink of permanent closure because of the disruptions.

The ranks of protesters had swelled to what police said were 4,000 demonstrators by Saturday, and a counter-protest of frustrated Ottawa residents attempting to block the convoy of trucks from entering the downtown emerged Sunday.

Click to play video: 'Injunction granted to prevent protesters from blocking Ambassador Bridge'
Injunction granted to prevent protesters from blocking Ambassador Bridge

Clayton Goodwin, a 45-year-old military veteran who was among the counter-protesters, said it was time for residents to stand up against the protesters.

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“I’m horrified that other veterans would be down there co-opting my flag, co-opting my service,” he said. “It’s a grift. The city was free. We’re 92 per cent vaccinated. We’re ready to support our businesses.”

Colleen Sinclair, another counter-protester, said the demonstrators have had enough time to have their discontent heard and need to move on — with police force, if it comes down to it.

“They’re occupiers. People are scared to go to work, too scared to leave their homes,” she said. “This is not how you get your voice heard. This is domestic terrorism and we want you out of our city. Go home.”

The city has seen similar expansions of the protest on past weekends, and loud music played as people milled about downtown where anti-vaccine demonstrators have been encamped since late January, to the frustration of local residents.

“It just feels like I’m living in a different country, like I’m in the States,” said Shannon Thomas, a 32-year-old teacher. “It just makes me really sad to see all these people waving Canadian flags and acting like patriots when it’s really the most sad and embarrassing thing I’ve ever seen.”

Nationwide protests

The federal government warned Saturday that consequences for trucker convoy protesters who break the law will be “increasingly severe.”

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Trudeau convened a meeting Saturday with ministers and senior officials to see how protests, occupations and blockades can be brought “under control.”

“I convened the Incident Response Group again today – we went over the efforts underway to address the illegal blockades and occupations,” Trudeau said on Twitter.

The “freedom convoy,” started by a group of people opposing COVID-19 vaccine and quarantine mandates for cross-border drivers, rolled into the national capital, Ottawa, on Jan. 28.

Click to play video: 'Trucker protests: Police clearing out Ambassador Bridge blockade'
Trucker protests: Police clearing out Ambassador Bridge blockade

The protests, which entered their 17th day on Sunday, have inspired similar convoys across the country. A major truck border crossing between Surrey, British Columbia, and Blaine, Washington, was closed Sunday, a day after Canadian authorities said a few vehicles had breached police barricades and a crowd entered the area by foot.

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police issued a statement saying that while no one had been injured, the actions were dangerous and being investigated.

A border crossing in Alberta remained shut as well.

While the protesters are decrying vaccine mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 restrictions, many of Canada’s public health measures, such as mask rules and vaccine passports for getting into restaurants and theaters, are already falling away as the omicron surge levels off.

Pandemic restrictions have been far stricter there than in the U.S., but Canadians have largely supported them. The vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and the COVID-19 death rate is one-third that of the United States.

— with files from Eric Stober, Reuters, the Associated Press and The Canadian Press 

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