Canada set to open blocked bridge, but in Ottawa truckers won’t budge

OTTAWA — Canadian law enforcement said Sunday they are preparing to reopen a major international bridge that has been blocked by protesters for nearly a week, raising hopes for industries, especially manufacturing. automobile, slowed to a standstill by the troubles. But in the footsteps of Parliament some 800 kilometers to the northeast, they seemed powerless to quell the near-chaos.

As officials announced that the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor, Ont., to Detroit, had been reclaimed after a series of arrests in the morning, some hailed it as the victory of a government deeply shaken by the intransigence of the vaccine mandate protests that began three weeks ago and have since sprouted like mushrooms. But it was a rare win – and as night fell on Sunday, not fully realized.

At the end of the day, the bridge was still not open to traffic.

And in Canada’s capital, Ottawa, hundreds of truckers were entering their third week of occupation of the area around Parliament Hill. They seemed emboldened by a growing sense of impunity, although on Sunday evening there were reports of an agreement reached for the drivers to withdraw from certain neighborhoods over the next few days.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson revealed behind-the-scenes negotiations with trucking management to remove their convoy from residential neighborhoods, among other measures. The mayor’s office released an emailed letter Saturday from one of the protest leaders, Tamara Lich, in which she said, “We will be working hard over the next 24 hours to get truckers on board. “.

The mayor said in an interview Sunday that the conversations started several days ago, with the only concession offered to the truckers being an agreement to meet.

The proposal would force truckers out of a residential area, where 15,000 people live, he said, but they would not be forced out of Wellington Street, the site of the legislative buildings.

“My concern has been to provide relief to people who live in these areas,” he said. “It’s not the politicians or the truckers themselves who are suffering, it’s the people who live in these communities.”

The rumor that tensions could ease a bit in the beleaguered capital came after protesters and their supporters spent the weekend jamming the streets with dance parties, bonfires and even a hot tub inflatable. People swarmed local shops without masks, breaking local regulations, and lavished truckers camped in their vehicles with cash and gifts which they threw out their windows.

The small ranks of police walking around in the occupation seemed to largely stand aside as people openly broke a myriad of laws. Some displayed jugs of diesel fuel — supplies banned for truckers — that leaned on their truck horns.

In Windsor, a town on the Detroit River in the southernmost heel of the province of Ontario, police have taken a more assertive stance.

Beginning Saturday morning, hundreds of officers staged a maneuver to rout the trucks that had blocked the approaches to the Ambassador Bridge all week. Forming a human cordon, during the day, the police drove off trucks and repelled demonstrators whose blocking of the great international trade route had cost, in particular, millions of dollars to American automakers.

Sunday late morning, police said the remaining protesters had largely been evacuated, with some arrested.

“Today our national economic crisis at the Ambassador Bridge came to an end,” said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens.

In the hours following that announcement on Sunday morning, it was unclear whether his words could be more hopeful than warranted, given the scene on the bridge: Protesters were mostly gone — at least for now — but all day Sunday the span sat idle. .

It was reported that the bridge could not reopen until it was plowed and salted, and on Sunday evening dozens of police watched a dwindling number of protesters as heavy snow fell and temperatures were falling. Officers holding megaphones warned those remaining to leave.

Some protesters had their own messages for the police.

“I know you’re just doing your job, but you’re working for the wrong side,” one shouted as he left the busy intersection where protesters had gathered about half a mile from the foot of the Ambassador Bridge.

Authorities said protesters were repeatedly warned they were at risk of arrest. “Canada is a nation that believes in the right to freedom of speech and expression,” Mr. Dilkens said, “but we are also bound by the rule of law.

The police action on the bridge stands in stark contrast to the response of their counterparts in Ottawa, where hundreds of truckers have spent the past 17 days occupying the streets of Parliament Hill. Virtually unchecked by the police, they cut off access to the buildings that house the country’s parliament, the Supreme Court and even the Prime Minister’s office, their rumbling semis adding a brooding presence to the usually calm town.

In recent days, the stage had apparently been set for the police to act to put an end to the truck camp. On Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency, allowing police to arrest occupiers and levy heavy fines.

Other potential penalties piled up.

The truckers were threatened with the revocation of their licenses. And anyone who helps them, Mr Ford warned, such as by providing fuel, could also be arrested. A judge last week issued an injunction banning the cacophony of honking that has been a hallmark of the day-and-night occupation, acting after a resident sued on behalf of her neighbours.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had also hinted at a stronger response after weeks of restraint in which he appeared to be trying to maintain a precarious political balance. Mr. Trudeau leads an unpopular minority government, and his reluctance appeared to be an attempt to avoid turning the protests into a referendum on his leadership, which has the approval of only 42% of Canadiansand on the pandemic policies that have polarized voters.

But if there is another shoe, it hasn’t dropped in Ottawa yet. Over the weekend, the protest only swelled, breathing an air of anarchy into the famously stuffy city for the third weekend in a row.

“We are exercising our rights to peaceful protest; that’s why the police didn’t come down and raid,” said Guy Meister, a trucker from Aylesford, Nova Scotia, who said he spent nearly three weeks in his truck, parked in front of the Senate building. “As for illegality, they have to show me what is illegal. How come I don’t have a ticket yet? How come I’m not in jail after three weeks? »

Mr. Meister offered an answer to his own question: “Deep down they know, yes, they can stop us, but that’s a mistake.

The police say they are paralyzed by the lack of means and largely outnumbered. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Ontario Provincial Police opened a new command center on Saturday evening.

But Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly’s call a week ago for an additional 1,800 officers to bolster the city’s current tier of 1,200 appears to have gone largely unanswered so far: the force received only about 250 mounted police officers, he said on Thursday. Police did not respond to a request for updated figures on Sunday.

Since the beginning of the demonstration until Saturday, the police have made 26 arrests and distributed 2,600 tickets. There are 140 ongoing criminal investigations, police said.

The mayor said that when city officers have attempted to issue tickets, they have sometimes been swarmed by protesters and needed police escort, which the city lacks the staff to provide.

Even with their limited resources, critics say, the police could do much more.

“We have provided them with additional help, but we really need them to apply the law and enforce it,” said Bill Blair, the Minister for Civil Protection. told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Sunday. “At the end of the day, it’s the responsibility of the police – to enforce and enforce our laws – and we just need them to do that.”

In fact, in some respects the greatest concrete resistance the occupiers have faced to date has not come from law enforcement, but from ordinary citizens who, over the weekend, staged a counter-protest, spreading the word on Facebook pages normally concerned with dog walking and barbecues.

They begged the truckers to go home.

“It feels like a bad dream that’s been going on for two weeks,” said Suzanne Charest, 58, one of the walkers.

On Sunday, some returned for a second counter-protest in which they formed a human blockade in an attempt to push back a convoy of truckers intent on raiding the city’s downtown core.

With some exceptions, “all levels of government,” she lamented, “have really let the people of Ottawa down.”

The unrest was not limited to Ottawa and Windsor, however.

Other protests continued in at least a dozen Canadian cities, drawing crowds of varying sizes. As of 5 p.m. Sunday, the Canada Border Services Agency reported that border crossings remained closed at Emerson in the province of Manitoba, north of North Dakota, and at Coutts, where the province of Alberta borders Montana. . At the Pacific Highway crossing between Washington State and Surrey, British Columbia, the border remained closed Sunday evening.

The report was provided by Allison Hannaford, Vjosa Isai, Catherine Porter, Kathleen Gray and Max Fisher.

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