WINDSOR, Feb 13 — Canadian police yesterday worked to clear a key bridge of truckers protesting Covid-19 restrictions, even as authorities in Ottawa braced for renewed demonstrations expected to bring thousands to the federal capital.
But with crowds of protesters blocking Ottawa streets for a third straight weekend, and with copycat protests spreading around the globe — including to France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia — the anti-mandate protests took on a wider dimension.
In Ontario, where authorities have declared a state of emergency, the provincial supreme court had ordered truckers to end their blockade of the strategic Ambassador Bridge, which links the city of Windsor in Canada to Detroit, Michigan in the US.
The protest has forced major automakers in both countries to halt or scale back production, and Washington on Friday urged Ottawa to use its federal powers to end the blockade.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised “an increasingly robust police intervention,” adding that borders cannot remain closed and “this conflict must end.”
But while Canadian police, backed by armoured vehicles, began clearing the Ambassador Bridge — taking down tents erected in traffic lanes and persuading some drivers to move their trucks — many demonstrators continued to resist, their numbers appearing to grow as the day went on.
“Individuals who are located within the demonstration area are subject to arrest,” the Windsor police warned on Twitter. “People are advised to immediately vacate the area.”
The protesters potentially face heavy fines, jail time and loss of their driver’s licenses if they continue obstructing traffic.
But there were no immediate reports of arrests yesterday. Windsor police spokesman Jason Bellaire told reporters the plan was to defuse the situation peacefully, if possible.
The Ambassador Bridge is vital to the US and Canadian auto industries, carrying more than 25 per cent of merchandise exported by both countries.
Two other US-Canada border crossings, one in Manitoba province and one in Alberta, remain blocked by protests.
‘I’m not dead’
Yesterday morning crowds of protesters were again collecting in Ottawa, the epicentre of the movement.
Hundreds of people, some waving Canadian flags, again occupied the city centre, walking under snowy skies between the huge trucks that have paralysed the capital and infuriated many locals.
“I’ve been supporting the cause from the beginning,” said 38-year-old Marc-Andre Mallette, whose backpack bore patches representing both the Canadian and the Quebec flags.
“I’m not vaccinated, and I’m not dead,” added Mallette, a sewer worker from the town of St.-Armand, near the US border.
John Pacheco, a self-described “Catholic activist” who said he has been coming to the demonstrations three times a week, brought his 15-year-old daughter Sophia yesterday.
Pacheco said the government lacked equipment to remove all the trucks, adding, “We could be here for months.”
Truckers originally converged on Ottawa to press their demand for an end to a vaccination requirement affecting truckers crossing the international border.
But the movement has spread, as the protesters — mostly insisting they want to protect their freedoms, but some displaying swastikas or Confederate flags — now seek an end to all vaccine mandates, whether imposed by the federal or provincial governments.
Anti-Trudeau signs and chants have become common along the clogged Ottawa streets.
Political opponents say the prime minister has been far too slow to bring the protests to an end.
Trudeau has repeatedly insisted that the protesters represent a small — if noisy — fraction of a population that has largely gone along with vaccination requirements and guidance.
But anti-Covid measures in some provinces have been more restrictive than in much of the world, and the truckers’ message has resonated more widely than the authorities expected.
One opinion survey found that one-third of Canadians support the protest movement, while 44 per cent say they at least understand the truckers’ frustrations.
Protest in Paris
Since the movement began, some central Canadian provinces have announced plans to end mask and vaccine requirements in coming weeks, with the numbers of Covid-19 cases falling. But the two most populous provinces — Ontario and Quebec — have yet to follow suit.
The truckers have found support among conservatives and vaccine mandate opponents across the globe, with demonstrations in several countries even as mandates are being rolled back in many places.
In Paris yesterday, police fired teargas and issued hundreds of fines in an effort to break up convoys of vehicles coming from across France in a protest over Covid restrictions and rising living costs. While some protesters made it to the glitzy Champs-Elysees, they were unable to block the city’s streets as they had hoped.
In the Netherlands, a vehicle convoy brought The Hague’s city centre to a standstill in another Canada-style protest.
In Switzerland, hundreds of protesters marched in Zurich to protest Covid-19 restrictions, while several thousand others rallied against them, Swiss media reported. Both rallies were illegal, and police used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.
In Australia, an estimated 10,000 protesters marched through capital Canberra to the parliament building on Saturday to decry vaccine mandates.
And in New Zealand, anti-mandate activists have been camped on the lawns of parliament in Wellington for days in a protest that began as a copycat of the Canadian convoy. — AFP