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Police move in on Ambassador Bridge border blockade

Enforcement operation aims to reopen the busiest commercial crossing between the U.S. and Canada

Virtually no commercial traffic has moved across the Ambassador Bridge since Monday. (Photo: Grace Sharkey/FreightWaves)

Police in Windsor, Ontario, began an operation Saturday morning targeting the protest at the Ambassador Bridge that has blocked commercial traffic at the U.S.-Canada border crossing for the past five days. 

“The Windsor Police and its policing partners have commenced enforcement at and near the Ambassador Bridge,” the Windsor Police Service said in a tweet. “We urge all demonstrators to act lawfully and peacefully. Commuters are still being asked to avoid the areas affected by the demonstrations at this time.”

As of Saturday afternoon, some protesters had left as police attempted to negotiate with those remaining. The large police presence included heavily armed tactical units backed up by armored vehicles and snipers.

The police action came after a judge granted an injunction Friday to remove the protesters at the bridge following a petition from the city of Windsor and two automotive groups. Earlier in the day, the province of Ontario declared a state of emergency in response to the protest at the Ambassador Bridge and the Freedom Convoy in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford warned that protesters could face fines of up to C$100,000 (U.S. $78,500), prison time, and the loss of their commercial drivers’ licenses.

Around 100 protesters, including a small number of truckers, have been blocking traffic leading to the bridge with devastating consequences to the cross-border supply chain. Auto plants have been hit especially hard, with multiple facilities cutting operations because parts aren’t arriving quickly enough.

Trucks have been detouring to alternate border crossings including the Blue Water Bridge and Peace Bridge, adding hours of delays. 

The Ambassador Bridge blockade has been part of a wave of protests that were initially in response to the vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers, which took effect in January. Protesters are now demanding an end to all COVID-19 related restrictions in Canada.

More protests were expected Saturday at other border crossings. Meanwhile, protesters are continuing to disrupt traffic at border crossings Coutts, Alberta, and Pembina, Manitoba.

The Ambassador Bridge blockade, which started Monday, has been part of a wave of protests against vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 measures that are blocking two additional borders, in Alberta and Manitoba, and occupying a large section of Ottawa.

The bridge’s closure has slowed the movement of freight as drivers reroute to other crossings, including the nearby Blue Water Bridge. Auto plants on both sides of the border have scaled back production because parts aren’t arriving quickly enough.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also weighed in, saying the consequences for protesters who remain in Ottawa and at the U.S.-Canada border “are becoming more and more severe.” 

“You don’t want to end up losing your license, end up with a criminal record, which will impact your job, your livelihood, even your ability to travel internationally, including to the U.S.,” he said.

‘A huge impact on the flow of goods’

Canadian and U.S. drivers alike are facing lengthy delays and extra time reaching alternate borders, including the Port Huron and Peace Bridge crossings.

“Drivers are kind of skeptical about leaving with loads, coming back through those [ports of entry] because of the wait times that they are seeing, so it’s definitely slowing down an already very inefficient and slow supply chain,” said Rob Piccioni, CEO of Montreal-based freight brokerage and trucking company Fuel Transport. “It’s already having an economic impact, a really huge impact on the flow of goods.”

Ed, an Ohio-based driver who did not give his last name, said he was frustrated because he has had to spend more time driving, without being paid more, because of the Ambassador Bridge closure.

“It is adding to my day, but we get paid by the run, not by the hour. So if it takes five hours or 10 hours, we still get the same amount,” he said from a truck stop near the Blue Water Bridge border crossing in Port Huron, Michigan.

The prolonged disruptions could also reduce the amount of U.S.-based cross-border trucking capacity, said Glenn Koepke, senior vice president for customer success at supply chain visibility provider FourKites.

“If the volume coming out of Canada changes because of the delays and disruption, what we may see is that American companies will only go to Canada unless there’s a guaranteed round trip, especially through the Michigan border crossing points,” Koepke said.

‘I’m not afraid,’ says Freedom Convoy trucker in Ottawa as police step up crackdown 

On Thursday, Ottawa police said they had persuaded 25 truckers to leave voluntarily but are threatening to tow others who remain.

Erik Mueller, an owner-operator from Alberta, has been in Ottawa for almost two weeks and said he has no intention of leaving but wouldn’t resist the police. He said he won’t leave until all vaccine mandates are lifted and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau resigns.

“If somebody breaks the law and tries to seize my vehicle or arrest me, then I go to court,” he said. “I’m not afraid.”

FreightWaves reporters Grace Sharkey and Noi Mahoney contributed to this report.

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Nate Tabak

Nate Tabak is a Toronto-based journalist and producer who covers cybersecurity and cross-border trucking and logistics for FreightWaves. He spent seven years reporting stories in the Balkans and Eastern Europe as a reporter, producer and editor based in Kosovo. He previously worked at newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the San Jose Mercury News. He graduated from UC Berkeley, where he studied the history of American policing. Contact Nate at [email protected].