Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Friday declared a state of emergency for the entire province as Ottawa police prepared as thousands of protesters would descend for the third straight weekend of a crisis that has disrupted international supply chains.
“By protesting, you make your point and go back home. I know the vast majority have done so,” Mr Ford said at a news conference. “My message to those who are still in Ottawa, those who are still at our border crossing, to those who have brought their children: please take them home. And it is time to do so peacefully.”
Otherwise, “there will be consequences, and they will be severe,” he said, adding that the maximum fine for non-compliance would be $100,000 and one year in prison, plus possible revocation of personal and commercial licenses. “Your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the right of thousands of workers to earn a living.”
Hundreds of miles away, along the border with the United States, Mayor Drew Dilkens of Windsor, Ontario, is seeking a court order to allow him to remove protesters from the Ambassador Bridge, which accounts for about a third of U.S.-Canada trade wearing. A hearing was scheduled for Friday afternoon.
“Local individuals are entering municipal property,” Mr Dilkens said on Thursday, and will be removed if necessary “to allow safe and efficient movement of goods across the border.”
The crisis began two weeks ago when loosely organized groups of truck drivers and others gathered in Ottawa to protest vaccination requirements for truck drivers entering Canada. It has become a broader rallying cry, mostly from right-wing groups, against pandemic restrictions and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s handling of the pandemic.
Automakers are particularly affected by the partial closure of the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor and Detroit. Trucks cross it thousands of times a day carrying $300 million worth of goods, about a third of which is related to the auto industry. The lockdowns have left automakers short of essential parts, forcing companies to close some plants from Ontario to Alabama on Friday.
The Teamsters union – which represents 15,000 truck drivers in Canada but generally not those who are protesting – condemned the blockade, which threatens thousands of jobs.
In Ottawa, the Canadian capital, Thursday’s scene resembled a boisterous party, with hundreds of people crowding between the cabs of huge trucks parked in the middle of the street. The song “Life Is a Highway” blared from speakers atop an empty trailer that was being converted into a stage. But the crowd had thinned a bit, with empty spots where trucks had been parked.
“Some people had to go back to work and the police wouldn’t let us fill up those spaces,” said Johnny Neufeld, 39, a truck driver from Windsor.
On Thursday, Ontario won a Supreme Court order prohibiting the distribution or use of donations raised through Christian fundraising platform GiveSendGo, including more than $8.5 million raised through a campaign called “Freedom Convoy 2022.” were, a reference to the slogans of the protesters. However, the US-based company said it intends to oppose the court order.
“Canada has absolutely ZERO influence on how we manage our funds here at GiveSendGo” it tweeted. “All funds for EVERY campaign on GiveSendGo go directly to the recipients of those campaigns, not the least of which is The Freedom Convoy campaign.”
The protests have drawn attention from far-right and anti-vaccination groups worldwide, raising millions of dollars and inspiring knockoff protests in at least two countries, New Zealand and Australia. Organizers of a US convoy announced a protest in Washington, DC on March 5.
Marco Mendicino, Canada’s public safety minister, said Thursday that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is deploying additional officers to Ottawa and Windsor. Mr. Trudeau has ruled out sending the army; There is little precedent for this in Canada, which has no provincial equivalents of a National Guard.
late thursday, he said he had convened an “incident response group” and briefed Canada’s opposition parties on the situation.
Some protesters were clearly on the fringes, wearing Nazi symbols and desecrating monuments. Others describe themselves as ordinary Canadians driven by desperation.
When the state of emergency was declared, Ontario Prime Minister Mr. Ford described the protesters as occupiers and hostage-takers.
“As a province, as a nation, we must draw a line together,” he said.
Shashank Bengali and Allison Hannaford contributed reporting.