Defiant protesters remain at key US-Canada border crossing

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WINDSOR, Ontario (AP) — Protesters at the busiest border crossing between the United States and Canada remained on Saturday despite fresh warnings to end the blockade that has disrupted the movement of goods between the two countries and forced the auto industry on both sides to roll back production.

It was not immediately clear when or if law enforcement officers would be sent to evict the protesters, who are protesting Canada’s COVID-19 mandates and restrictions. There is also a wave of fury against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

About 20 protesters moved outside early Saturday, while others remained in their vans and other cars. A judge on Friday ordered protesters on the Ambassador Bridge over the US-Canada border to end the blockade which has now entered a sixth day.

On Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency in the province, which will allow his cabinet to impose fines of $100,000 and up to a year in prison to punish those who continue to unlawfully block roads, bridges, walkways and other critical infrastructure.

Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz of the Ontario Superior Court issued an injunction giving protesters blocking cross-border traffic until 7 p.m. Friday to clear. However, the deadline has come and gone.

Windsor Police immediately warned that anyone blocking the streets could face arrest and their vehicles could be impounded.

The news was met with defiance by protesters.

At the Ambassador Bridge, an unidentified person grabbed a microphone and addressed the crowd, asking if they wanted to stay or go when the deadline rolled around. By a show of applause, it was agreed that they would stay. “Okay,” the man said. “Let’s stand.” The demonstrators responded by singing the Canadian national anthem.

The crowd then grew in size and intensity, with flags waving and frequent chants of “Freedom!” Other patrol cars moved around the site and police handed out leaflets warning that the state of emergency would come into effect at midnight.

Since Monday, drivers mostly in vans have bottled up the bridge linking Windsor to Detroit. Hundreds more truckers have paralyzed downtown Ottawa over the past two weeks; it was a party vibe there on Friday night, when they even set up a concert stage.

Protesters also blocked two other border crossings, in Alberta and Manitoba.

The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest US-Canada border crossing, carrying 25% of all trade between the two countries. The standoff comes at a time when the auto industry is already struggling to maintain production in the face of pandemic-induced computer chip shortages and other supply chain disruptions.

Freedom Convoy protesters have now cut off access to three border crossing points between the United States and Canada. (Source: CNN, WDIV, CTV NETWORK, CBC NEWS, AMBASSADOR BRIDGE, POOL)

Ford said he will convene the provincial cabinet on Saturday to urgently pass measures stating that it is “crystal clear” that it is illegal to block critical infrastructure. The measures will also provide additional authority “to consider revoking the personal and business licenses of anyone who does not comply,” Ford said.

Trudeau called Ontario’s decision “responsible and necessary” and said he had spoken to US President Joe Biden about it. He said he and Biden agreed that “for the safety of people and the economy, these blockades cannot continue.”

Trudeau said he understands protesters are frustrated by the pandemic, but “these lockdowns hurt ordinary families, auto assembly workers, farmers, truckers, blue-collar Canadians.”

The protests have caused auto parts shortages that have forced General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Honda to close factories or cancel shifts.

As Canadian protesters decry vaccination mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 restrictions, many of the country’s infection measures, such as mask rules and vaccination passports to enter restaurants and theaters, are already falling as omicron’s thrust stabilizes.

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

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Gillies reported from Toronto.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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