Canadian police on Saturday attempted to clear protesters from the Ambassador Bridge across from Detroit, intending to end a six-day blockage of North America’s busiest international crossing by demonstrators decrying Covid-19 measures.
Dozens of police officers approached protesters near the foot of the bridge on the Canadian side – in the city of Windsor – on Saturday morning. Some protesters moved away on their own, dismantling a makeshift tent area where they received food and shelter.
Some pedestrians remained near an intersection on a road leading to the bridge later Saturday, including some talking to or yelling at a line of standing police officers. Others sang the Canadian national anthem or shouted, “Freedom!”
No arrest was immediately seen by a CNN crew. Around 20 protest vehicles remained.
Windsor police tweeted late Saturday morning that enforcement was still under way, warning that people in the demonstration area were subject to arrest.
The judge gave demonstrators until 7 p.m. Friday to end the blockade. The number of demonstrators dwindled overnight, and a few dozen vehicles remained parked at the foot of the bridge as the sun rose Saturday, a CNN crew there said.
More demonstrators eventually drove away, including after police officers moved in Saturday morning.
Vehicles may be seized and could be forfeited in case of a conviction, Windsor police said after Friday’s court order.
“One by one, we’ll start towing the cars if required,” Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said Friday, a few hours before the judge’s deadline.
The Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, also declared a state of emergency on Friday, promising “severe” consequences for those who are taking part in blockades at the bridge and elsewhere in the province, including at demonstrations in the nation’s capital of Ottawa.
People who don’t leave the blockades could face a maximum penalty of $100,000 and up to one year in prison, he said.
“So let me be as clear as I can, there will be consequences for these actions, and they will be severe. We’ve already started by going after the money funding the illegal occupation,” Ford said.
Demonstrations in Canada began last month, starting with truckers who convoyed from the west to Ottawa to protest new rules forcing Canadian truckers crossing the US-Canadian border to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or face quarantine in their homes for two weeks when they return.
That protest drew other demonstrators around the country in resistance to other Covid-19 preventative measures, including restrictions on gatherings and mask mandates – especially in schools.
Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with about 4 in every 5 Canadians fully vaccinated, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. And nearly 90% of the country’s truckers are fully vaccinated and eligible to cross the border, according to the Canadian government.
Yet for two weeks, demonstrators have blockaded Ottawa’s downtown core, prompting a judge there to rule Monday that they must stop honking.
And the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit is not the only affected border crossing. Demonstrators also have used semitrailers – and sometimes farm equipment and other vehicles – to block crossings between Emerson, Manitoba, and Pembina, North Dakota, as well as at the Coutts access point between Alberta and Montana.
The Manitoba Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Saturday that about 50 vehicles have blocked access to the Canada/US border at Emerson since Thursday.
All four lanes of Highway 75 at Provincial Road 200 remain blocked but emergency vehicles and some agriculture transports have crossed the border, Manitoba RCMP said. No arrests have been made.
The Ontario Provincial Police on Saturday shut down Fort Erie-bound lanes of the Queen Elizabeth Way at Gilmore Road. The closure was in response to a convoy headed toward the Peace Bridge connecting Buffalo and Canada, according to Constable Phil Gavin of the Niagara Regional Police Service. The bridge remains open.
In Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson told CNN he expects more demonstrators this weekend.
“It’s completely unacceptable,” Watson said. “Particularly in the neighborhoods where some of the protesters are going into restaurants and refusing to wear a mask and harassing staff and really being belligerent to the residents of our city.”
Ottawa Police said Saturday that they will continue to deploy officers “to end this unlawful occupation and await the necessary reinforcements to do so.”
US officials warn similar protests are possible
The Canadian protests are igniting concerns among US officials that similar demonstrations may be sparked across the border. Right-wing news media outlets have raised the prospect of like-minded rallies in the US and offered positive coverage of those in Canada.
The protests in Canada already are “incredibly damaging” to many across the US Midwest, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told CNN on Friday, adding the protests have been “hurting us in Michigan since Day 1.”
“We are at an economic crisis because of this illegal blockade,” which is becoming a homeland security issue, Whitmer said.
In an interview with CNN Saturday, US Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan said she believes in the freedom of speech and the right to protest.
“I’ve done many of them over the decades,” she said. “But I don’t believe that people have the right to block a major economic trade route between two countries that is impacting workers in very real time.”
The US Department of Homeland Security warned state and local officials in a bulletin that a convoy of truckers protesting Covid-19 vaccine mandates may soon begin in the US and potentially affect the Super Bowl in Southern California.
“The convoy will potentially begin in California as early as mid-February and arrive in Washington, DC, as late as mid-March, potentially impacting the Super Bowl LVI scheduled for 13 February and the State of the Union Address scheduled for 1 March,” the bulletin said.
In addition, a group in the US said it is organizing two trucker convoys that will head to the US-Canada border in Buffalo on Saturday and Sunday.
However, the city said Friday the group had not applied for permits to hold events.
“Nor have the organizers contacted our Special Events Office to arrange for the appropriate insurance and public safety planning that is required for all events in the City to ensure the health and safety of residents and visitors,” Buffalo city spokesperson Michael DeGeorge told CNN. “It is always a concern when laws that are designed to keep people and property protected are willfully ignored.”
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told CNN Saturday the city expected “dozens” of trucks but officials “don’t envision at this point what we’re seeing in Canada.”
“We’re ready for these trucks but our goal is to keep our roadways open and to make sure that residents and visitors are safe and healthy,” he said.
How Canadian officials have responded to the demonstrations
Canadian officials have generally stood firm in their appeals to end the blockades at the border and the protests in Ottawa, though those calls often have fallen on deaf ears.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated Friday that the demonstrations will end.
“If you joined the protests because you’re tired of Covid, you now need to understand that you are breaking laws,” Trudeau said in a Friday news conference. “You don’t want to end up losing your license, end up with a criminal record, which will impact your job, your livelihood.”
The Trudeau government said it will send more officers to protests across the country, adding the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s national police force, continues to show decisive action.
CNN’s Ray Sanchez, Miguel Marquez and Kim Berryman reported from Windsor; Jason Hanna wrote in Atlanta. Aya Elamroussi, Paula Newton, Paradise Afshar, Paul P. Murphy, Sharif Paget, Christina Maxouris, Chris Isidore, Lucy Kafanov and Geneva Sands contributed to this report.