Despite an Ontario judge granting an injunction Friday against protesters who have been blocking the Ambassador Bridge for five days, crowds remained defiant with their presence late into the night.
The ruling ordering them to clear the road and potentially opening a path to ending the international standoff took effect at 7 p.m. Friday, just hours after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that “everything is on the table” to dissolve the blockade and restart traffic across the vital North American shipping route.
The protest over a vaccine requirement for truckers entering the country grew larger and more raucous as the court-ordered deadline for demonstrators to leave came and went. About 7:30 p.m., protesters were gathered at Huron Church Road and College Avenue near the bridge, playing a mixture of religious, pop and country music, many waving the Canadian flag. Some brandished flags declaring “(expletive) Trudeau.”
A couple of times, demonstrators shot firecrackers in the air. The line of passenger and commercial vehicles blocking the international crossing remained in place as protesters occasionally broke into shouts of “freedom!”
Meanwhile, police vehicles lined side streets, but officers had made no move to break up the crowd despite warning earlier in the day that blocking streets at and near the Ambassador Bridge is “an unlawful act” that may constitute “a criminal offense.”
Officers distributed flyers warning that come midnight, it would be “illegal and punishable to block and impede the movements of goods, services and people along critical infrastructure.” The paper also said fines and jail time would be possible, that personal and commercial licenses could be seized and that the stiffened measures “will be permanent.”
For now, Trudeau said officials will rely on local law enforcement to deal with protesters, who have shut down traffic at the busiest U.S.-Canada border crossing.
“Using military forces against civilian populations in Canada, or in any other democracy, is something to avoid having to do at all costs,” Trudeau said. He added the government is “a long way from having to call in the military,” but that there will be “real consequences” for those involved in the blockade.
“We’re taking every precaution to keep people safe. But the absolute safest way for this to end is for everyone to return to your communities now.”
Earlier Friday, provincial and municipal leaders announced new steps to resume the flow of traffic across the border. Windsor Police issued a statement Friday evening aimed at protesters, warning that people blocking streets can be arrested or have their vehicles seized.
Ontario officials plan to enact temporary orders that will fine protesters blocking the bridge up to $100,000 and sentence them to up to a year in jail, said Ontario Premier Doug Ford. They also will consider taking away the personal or commercial driver’s licenses of anyone who defies the orders.
The orders will clarify that blocking the movement of “goods, people and services across critical infrastructure” is illegal, Ford said, including border crossings, airports, bridges, highways and railways.
“To those trying to force a political agenda through disruption, intimidation and chaos, my message to you is this: Your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the right of hundreds of thousands of workers to earn their living.”
Ford begged the protesters to leave and declared a state of emergency. He said an Ontario Court granted his administration’s request to freeze funds flowing to the protesters and the police have provided additional resources to backup law enforcement in Ottawa and Windsor.
Ahead of the injunction taking effect at 7 p.m., the crowd at the bridge in Windsor appeared to have grown larger, with some protesters seeming intent on violating the court’s order. Demonstrators played music and many waved Canadian flags as the police presence at the site also appeared to grow.
Meanwhile, hospitals in Windsor confirmed they are on standby should police “or another emergency response agency” initiate “a Code Orange, which is called in the rare case of a disaster or mass casualty situation,” the Windsor Star reported.
An automotive supply group and the City of Windsor went to court Friday to seek the injunction, arguing the protests break multiple laws.
The United States also has a vaccine requirement for freight truckers delivering goods across the border.
The Ambassador Bridge has been blocked to traffic since Monday evening, when a protest at the Capitol in Ottawa moved to other cities across the country and to the trade thoroughfare connecting Canada to Detroit.
Officials continued to reroute commercial traffic to the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, where they say nine commercial lanes are open, and to the Windsor tunnel for smaller passenger traffic.
The Michigan Department of Transportation tweeted at 10 p.m. that wait times at Blue Water heading into the U.S. from Canada were less than 15 minutes for passenger and commercial vehicles. Wait times heading into Canada from the U.S. were less than 15 minutes for cars and more than 90 minutes for commercial vehicles. In previous days during the Ambassador Bridge blockade, truckers waited hours at Blue Water.
The Ambassador Bridge is the conduit of 25% of all trade between the two countries and is of particular importance to the North American auto industry. Around 10,000 commercial vehicles cross the bridge every day with $325 million of goods, the Michigan Treasury Department estimated Friday. Around $50 million of that are auto parts. The blockade has caused major economic strain for automakers and other manufacturers already struggling with supply chain woes.
It’s drawn the attention of both nation’s highest officeholders. Trudeau and President Joe Biden spoke about the standoff Friday.
The prime minister promised quick action in enforcing the law and the president thanked him for the steps he and other Canadian authorities are taking to restore the open passage of bridges to the United States, said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
“The Biden administration has continued its work overnight and engaged in productive conversations with our Canadian counterparts over the last 24 hours to bring the blockade at the Ambassador Bridge and other ports of entry to a swift and peaceful end,” a White House official told The Detroit News Friday. “We feel confident that at the municipal, provincial and federal level, Canada appreciates the urgency required to take action.”
As the standoff entered its fifth day, automakers reported additional production impacts — the latest in a series of shocks delivered by the collateral effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Toyota Motor North America said Friday that it’s now having periodic downtime at its engine plants in West Virginia and Alabama: “Due to a number of supply chain, severe weather and COVID related challenges, Toyota continues to face shortages affecting production at our North American plants,” Toyota spokeswoman Kelly Stefanich said in a statement.
Toyota plants in Canada and Kentucky had previously been impacted. The Japanese automaker said it expects disruptions to continue through the weekend, “and we’ll continue to make adjustments as needed.” It does not expect the situation to result in employment impacts at this time.
Workers at General Motors Co.’s CAMI Assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, home of the Chevrolet Equinox, were sent home early Friday as a result of parts shortages. But GM’s U.S. plants that had seen production cuts due to the blockade earlier this week are back up and running.
The Detroit automaker on Thursday canceled the first and second shifts at its Lansing Delta Township Plant, where the Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse SUVs are made. GM confirmed Friday that production of heavy-duty trucks at Flint Assembly Plant was interrupted as a result of parts shortages. However, many employees are completing training requirements so they are still working.
Ford Motor Co. spokeswoman Kelli Felker said Friday its plants in Oakville and Windsor are running at “reduced capacity” and its Ohio Assembly Plant is down “as a result of a parts shortage associated with this situation.” The Ford Oakville plant builds the Ford Edge and Lincoln Nautilus, Windsor builds engines and Ohio Assembly makes medium and super trucks.
“The interruption on the Detroit/Windsor bridge hurts customers, auto workers, suppliers, communities and companies on both sides of the border that are already two years into parts shortages resulting from the global semiconductor issue, COVID and more,” she said.
Stellantis NV also had to adjust production schedules Thursday because of the situation at the border. Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s plant in Alliston, Ontario, suspended manufacturing on one production line Wednesday evening. The automaker also temporarily suspended manufacturing on one production line on the Friday day shift there.
“Stellantis continues to make production adjustments as necessary due to parts shortages caused by the closure of the Detroit-Windsor bridge,” spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said. “Although the situation remains incredibly fluid, our teams are working around the clock to keep parts flowing into the plants to mitigate further disruptions.”
John Bozzella, CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation which represents most major automakers building vehicles in the U.S., said the group will “continue to work with policymakers and stakeholders in the U.S. and Canada to advocate for a swift and safe resolution on behalf of our employees, consumers and communities.”
Auto production impacts from the border blockade haven’t been that widespread so far, but “every day, every hour this goes on you’ll see the domino effect coming back out of this,” said Dave Andrea, a principal of the accounting firm Plante Moran and member of its automotive strategy team.
Peter Nagle, principal research analyst in automotive economics at IHS Markit, said Canada is a “critical supplier” of automotive parts to the U.S.
If the situation gets resolved, IHS is still anticipating that the return to regular supply operations will take weeks as the impact of the border blockade makes its way through the supply chain.
“Conversely, if the situation persists, additional slowdowns, shift reductions and plant closures will stress an already burdened supply chain,” Nagle said.
An Ontario judge approved an injunction requested by the City of Windsor and the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association against the protesters, officially ordering the protesters to leave and giving the police more power to end the blockade.
Their attorneys argued the protesters were breaking multiple municipal laws and infringing on the rights of others living in Windsor.
Mike Wills, the lawyer for the APMA, also said that the economic impact of the blockade is significant: The auto sector contributed around $12.5 billion to the Canadian GDP in 2020, he said, and vehicles are the second-largest Canadian export by value at $42.9 billion.
More than 90% of that was exported to the U.S., and American auto states like Michigan buy around $50 million worth of auto parts every day from Canadian companies, he said.
“No (auto plants are) sitting on thousands of parts so they can operate for weeks and weeks,” Wills said. “A shutdown of a day or two is catastrophic for continued operations, and it’s proving to be catastrophic.”
Attorneys defending the blockage argued that some disruption is a natural and protected side effect of protests and that there’s no need for an injunction if police already have the power to intervene. They also argued that there was not a total blockage and that police were contributing to backup.
“Courts in this country have held that demonstrations and picketing, by their very nature, are supposed to cause some degree of nuisance,” attorney Antoine D’Ailly said. “That is part and parcel of the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of assembly here.”
But the judge sided with the APMA, saying that while people have the right to protest, their blockade of the bridge has resulted in the denial of freedom to others.
Dana Wolfe, 36, of Windsor said he showed up Friday to protest “government tyranny” in Canada. He said he works as a maintenance electrician at an automotive plant, but declined to identify his employer. Wolfe — a father and stepfather of three children — pointed to mask mandates, especially in schools, as something he’s against.
“The middle class in this country believes that the political elite don’t really care about us,” he said. “They care more about people that can work on Zoom.”
Wolfe said he wasn’t concerned about the blockade’s impact on auto plants: “I believe that a couple days laid off, a week laid off, two weeks laid off, isn’t a really big deal when you’re looking at the big scheme of things here. I think freedom and freedom of choice is a lot more important, and to stop government tyranny is a lot more important than missing a week of work.”
Policymakers at the state and national level in the United States have been leaning on Canadian officials to urgently resolve the situation on the bridge.
Following a call between the two leaders Friday, Trudeau said he and Biden “both agree that for the security of the people and the economy, these blockades cannot continue.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has called on Canadian authorities to resolve the dispute and offered heavy equipment, security and other resources to assist in ending the blockade. The Biden administration has urged Trudeau’s government to use its federal powers to end the blockade.
Whitmer appeared on WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) and CNN Friday morning, where she reiterated her call to Canadian officials to “take all appropriate steps” to reopen traffic at the border.
She said the blockade has contributed to “hundreds of millions of dollars a day” being lost and said she’s been “burning up the phone line” talking with the White House, the Canadian ambassador, other Canadian officials and the congressional delegation to end the blockage.
“We have got to push to resolve this and it has to be swift,” she said. “Of course, we want it to be safely done as well. But it has to happen. We cannot let another minute go by unnecessarily because this border is too important to our economy, to our homeland security, and as we grow our economy, it’s a crucial moment.”
Some Michigan Republicans said they support the protesters, who are challenging the vaccine requirement and other COVID restrictions.
U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, whose district is home to the Blue Water Bridge where traffic is being re-routed, wrote on Twitter: “Vaccine mandates are going to cripple our supply chain. The Democrats can blame freedom loving truck drivers, but the real blame is on the vaccine requirements at the border.”
Michael Belzer, a professor of economics at Wayne State University who has studied the trucking industry in the region, said the protest has been taking people by surprise, “but in my opinion, it shouldn’t have.”
Working conditions for truckers in Canada have declined over the last few decades, he said, and they’re only paid “when the wheels are turning.”
When even a small portion are prevented from working, and in a political climate where vaccinations have become a wedge issue, “it’s kind of like throwing gasoline on an already smoldering fire.”
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