Police Arrest Protesters Who Remained At US-Canada Bridge

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(Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

WINDSOR, Ontario (AP) — Police moved in to clear and arrest the remaining protesters near the busiest U.S.-Canadian border crossing Sunday, ending a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions that has hurt the economy of both nations even as they held back from a crackdown on a larger protest in the capital, Ottawa.

The protest in Ottawa has paralyzed downtown, infuriated residents who are fed up with police inaction and turned up pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The demonstrations have reverberated across Canada and beyond, with similar convoys in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned that truck convoys may be in the works in the United States.

Windsor police said more than two dozen people were peacefully arrested, seven vehicles were towed and five were seized near the Ambassador Bridge that links their city — and numerous Canadian automotive plants — with Detroit.

“Today, our national economic crisis at the Ambassador Bridge came to an end,” said Windsor’s Mayor Drew Dilkens, who expressed hope the bridge would reopen Sunday. “Border crossings will reopen when it is safe to do so and I defer to police and border agencies to make that determination.

But the bridge remained closed as a snowstorm hit the area, and Windsor Police Chief Pamela Mizuno didn’t offer a timetable for its reopening.

“There are steps we need to take in order to reopen the roadways so that we don’t encounter the same issue,” she said at a news conference. “We need to ensure we are able to maintain the traffic flow.”

Only a few protesters had remained after police on Saturday persuaded demonstrators to move the pickup trucks and cars they had used to block a crossing that sees 25% of all trade between the two countries.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration on Sunday acknowledged the seemingly peaceful resolution to the demonstration, which it said had “widespread damaging impacts” on the “lives and livelihoods of people” on both sides of the border.

“We stand ready to support our Canadian partners wherever useful in order to ensure the restoration of the normal free flow of commerce can resume,” Homeland Security Advisor Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randall said in a statement.

In Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson said Sunday the city struck a deal with protesters who have jammed downtown streets for more than two weeks that will see them move out of residential areas in the next 24 hours.

Watson said he agreed to meet with demonstrators if they confine their protest to an area around Parliament Hill and move their trucks and other vehicles out of residential neighborhoods by noon Monday. A response from protest organizers suggested they would comply.

Watson added in his letter to protesters that residents are “exhausted″ and “on edge” due to the demonstrations and warns that some businesses are teetering on the brink of permanent closure because of the disruptions.

The ranks of protesters had swelled to what police said were 4,000 demonstrators by Saturday, and a counter-protest of frustrated Ottawa residents attempting to block the convoy of trucks from entering the downtown emerged Sunday.

Clayton Goodwin, a 45-year-old military veteran who was among the counter-protesters, said it was time for residents to stand up against the protesters.

“I’m horrified that other veterans would be down there co-opting my flag, co-opting my service,” he said. “It’s a grift. The city was free. We’re 92% vaccinated. We’re ready to support our businesses.”

Colleen Sinclair, another counter-protester, said the demonstrators have had enough time to have their discontent heard and need to move on — with police force, if it comes down to it.

“They’re occupiers. People are scared to go to work, too scared to leave their homes,” she said. “This is not how you get your voice heard. This is domestic terrorism and we want you out of our city. Go home.”

The city has seen similar expansions of the protest on past weekends, and loud music played as people milled about downtown where anti-vaccine demonstrators have been encamped since late January, to the frustration of local residents.

“It just feels like I’m living in a different country, like I’m in the States,” said Shannon Thomas, a 32-year-old teacher. “It just makes me really sad to see all these people waving Canadian flags and acting like patriots when it’s really the most sad and embarrassing thing I’ve ever seen.”

Trudeau has so far rejected calls to use the military, but had said that “all options are on the table” to end the protests. Trudeau has called the protesters a “fringe” of Canadian society. Both federal and provincial politicians have said they can’t order police what to do.

On Friday, a judge ordered an end to the blockade at the crossing in Windsor and Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency allowing for fines of 100,000 Canadian dollars and up to one year in jail for anyone illegally blocking roads, bridges, walkways and other critical infrastructure.

Partial closures at the bridge started Feb. 7 and by midweek the disruption was so severe that automakers began shutting down or reducing production. The standoff came at a time when the industry is already struggling to maintain production in the face of pandemic-induced shortages of computer chips and other supply-chain disruptions.

“We are protesting the government taking away our rights,” said Windsor resident Eunice Lucas-Logan. “We want the restrictions removed. We have to wait to find out.”

The 67-year-old has been out supporting the protest for the past four days. She said she appreciated that police have been patient.

On the other side of the country, a major truck border crossing between Surrey, British Columbia, and Blaine, Washington, was closed Sunday, a day after Canadian authorities said a few vehicles had breached police barricades and a crowd entered the area by foot.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police issued a statement saying that while no one had been injured, the actions were dangerous and being investigated.

A border crossing in Alberta remained shut as well.

While the protesters are decrying vaccine mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 restrictions, many of Canada’s public health measures, such as mask rules and vaccine passports for getting into restaurants and theaters, are already falling away as the omicron surge levels off.

Pandemic restrictions have been far stricter there than in the U.S., but Canadians have largely supported them. The vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and the COVID-19 death rate is one-third that of the United States.

Meanwhile, Biden, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt on Sunday ahead of the Super Bowl, struck a critical tone when asked about those likely to object to the mask mandate at the NFL championship game.

“I love how people talk about personal freedom,” he said. “If you’re exercising personal freedom, but you put someone else in jeopardy, their health in jeopardy, I don’t consider that being very good with freedom.”

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Gillies reported from Toronto. Associated Press writer Ted Shaffrey in Ottawa, Ontario, contributed to this report.

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