The Ontario government has announced new measures to protect international border crossings and airports from unlawful disruptions, just a month after anti-COVID mandate protestors blocked the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont.
“These new measures include legislation that, if passed, would enable law enforcement to better protect jobs that rely on international trade and shield the economy from future disruptions like the recent illegal blockade of Windsor’s Ambassador Bridge, which led to factory closures, shift reductions and halted billions of dollars worth of trade,” government officials said.
The province’s Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones, made the announcement on Monday at Toronto’s Pearson Airport.
The proposed legislation — part of the Keeping Ontario Open for Business Act, 2022 — would give police more enforcement powers.
These powers include more tools to impose roadside suspension of drivers’ licences and vehicle permits, seize licence plates when a vehicle is used in an illegal blockade and remove or store objects making up an illegal blockade, the government said.
Jones said she will be tabling the legislation at Queen’s Park on Monday afternoon.
On Feb. 7, protestors had descended on Ambassador Bridge, which is one of the busiest border crossings in North America, and blocked traffic. The protesters had remained on the bridge for almost a week before they were cleared on Feb. 13.
The blockade cost hundreds of millions of dollars in lost trade between Canada and the U.S., daily.
Jones said about $17-million worth of trade crosses over the Ambassador Bridge hourly, making up 25 per cent of all Canada-U.S. trade.
“This is very scoped legislation. That this is very focused, on ensuring that our trade partners and our trade pathways and corridors continue to remain open,” Jones said in response to a reporter question that the legislation could be seen as government overreach.
“It will not in any way impact people’s ability to lawfully protest, the ability to share their opinions in a public way. This is very much about our trade borders being open and ensuring we have that safe and appropriate economic path,” Jones continued.
Ontario had declared a provincial state of emergency on Feb. 11 in response to the “Freedom Convoy” protests that saw hundreds of protestors and trucks block the border crossing in protest of anti-COVID mandates such as mandatory proof of vaccination.
The government said it is also providing $96 million for tools and support for province-wide responses “during unlawful demonstrations and illegal blockades that impede international borders and airports.”
These include more training through the Ontario Police College, improvements to operational strength of the OPP including a permanent Emergency Response team and buying equipment such as heavy tow trucks that are necessary to keep borders open.
— with files from The Canadian Press