OTTAWA — A standoff between police and protesters from the self-styled “Freedom Convoy” opposing coronavirus vaccine mandates continued Sunday near a vital U.S.-Canada border crossing, even as crowds reportedly started shrinking overnight and one arrest was made. After law enforcement enforced an injunction ordering truckers and their supporters to leave, and ticketed and towed vehicles, a defiant core of protesters mostly remained on foot as temperatures dropped below freezing.
The blockade of the Ambassador Bridge, a key trade corridor that connects Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit, which has disrupted traffic and the flow of goods since Monday, has not ended. Disruptions are still plaguing other vital cross-border arteries — from Coutts, Alberta, which connects to Montana, to Surrey, British Columbia, which connects to Washington state.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stressed that “all options are on the table” to resolve the crisis, and that “border crossings cannot, and will not, remain closed,” his office said in a statement to the Associated Press.
Canada and the United States have denounced the impact of border disruptions on trade, industry and local communities. Goods worth some $360 million — a quarter of the value of all goods traded between the two countries — are transported every day on Ambassador Bridge. Car manufacturers including Toyota and Ford Motor have reduced some of their nearby operations in recent days because they said the blockade disrupted the delivery of necessary manufacturing parts.
In the capital Ottawa, police grappled with an influx of anti-government and anti-vaccine-mandate demonstrators for a third straight weekend despite both local and provincial officials declaring states of emergency. Law enforcement appeared to be floundering in their attempts to get Freedom Convoy protesters to leave by threatening them with fines, prison time, and the loss of their licenses.
Ottawa police said Saturday that over 4,000 demonstrators were in the city throughout the day.
“Safety concerns – arising from aggressive, illegal behaviour by many demonstrators – limited police enforcement capabilities,” the police said in a statement.
The Freedom Convoy — which began in Canada as a denunciation of vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers and has snowballed into a protest of public health measures and politicians — continued to inspire other protests around the world over the weekend.
Across the Atlantic, French protesters temporarily blocked the Champs-Élysées, a central artery in Paris on Saturday, in spite of an order banning them from entering the capital. Local outlets reported that police made at least 97 arrests.
Farther afield in New Zealand’s capital, protesters inspired by the Freedom Convoy blocked an area outside parliament in Wellington for the sixth day on Sunday — as officials there attempted to use sprinklers and songs like “Baby Shark” to diffuse the protest, to no avail. Police offered to provide alternative parking arrangements for protesters so long as they move their cars and camper vans from blocking the roads.
In Canada, as Trudeau and police come under pressure to do more to rein in the raucous protests, some local officials have acknowledged the potentially fraught implications of mass arrests or tougher action. Windsor’s mayor, Drew Dilkens, warned that arresting people could lead to violence, saying during a news briefing last week that some protesters believe “they are fighting for a cause that is worth dying for.”
After an Ontario judge ordered the demonstrators to leave the Ambassador Bridge by 7 p.m. Friday, Windsor police tweeted Saturday evening that they were towing and ticketing vehicles there. Some vehicles began moving away from the area, while demonstrators on foot displayed the Canadian flag and sang the country’s national anthem, chanting “Freedom!” periodically. Protesters began dismantling tents at the site and packing up grilling supplies.
A wall of police officers slowly pushed protesters away from the bridge, warning that demonstrators would be arrested if they did not leave. But more people on foot had swelled the protesters’ ranks by early afternoon, with demonstrators appearing to outnumber police officers, according to reporters from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. News, Canada’s public broadcaster.
Windsor Police said Saturday that a 27-year-old man was arrested “for a criminal offence in relation to the demonstration” at an intersection near the U.S.-Canada border. “Officers will intervene when necessary to ensure the safety of the public & maintain peace & order,” the police tweeted.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Surrey, British Columbia, southeast of Vancouver, said Saturday night that there was still “significant traffic congestion” on the main road leading to the Pacific Highway Border Crossing into Blaine, Wash. The crowd was “beginning to dissipate” but there were “still a number of individuals on foot,” the police said. An incident involving “a few vehicles” crossing police barricades and driving the wrong way down a street was under investigation, the police said, noting there were no injuries.
In Nova Scotia, protesters on Saturday blocked the Marine Atlantic terminal in North Sydney — the launch point for important ferry routes to Canada’s easternmost provinces. Demonstrations also have targeted border crossings in Manitoba and Alberta, as well as Sarnia in Ontario.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford called the blockade a “siege” and declared a provincial state of emergency Friday, warning protesters of “severe” consequences, including fines up to $78,500 and prison terms.
In Ottawa, in continued defiance of the state of emergency, loud dance parties raged throughout the blockaded streets. As police on foot and in cars stood watch, convoys of trucks blared their horns, in-spite of anti-noise ordinances in place, and fireworks were illegally set off in crowds. Some people openly drank cans and bottles of alcohol, another violation of Ottawa law.
Families with children, some just in for the day from French-speaking Quebec, mingled among the noise and fuel fumes. People marched through the street shouting “freedom” — in this environment, a catchphrase for doing whatever they wanted without personal consequence.
Hundreds of people joined a counterprotest Saturday afternoon in Ottawa, marching and chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “Hey hey, ho ho, this trucker convoy has got to go!”
Meanwhile in Edmonton, the capital of Alberta province, police issued 10 tickets and said they would issue 60 more by mail as demonstrators in trucks and on foot made their way to a federal building in the city’s downtown. Some reportedly honked their horns, in defiance of a temporary injunction preventing unnecessary noise, and the police said nine of the tickets were related to noise.
Counterprotestors briefly blocked the convoy on a road leading to the Alberta Legislature, local media reported.
— Amanda Coletta in Canada, Meryl Kornfield and Claire Parker contributed to this report.