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Thursday, February 9, 2023

Backlash grows over border blockades, Ottawa convoy standoff continues

Business groups and politicians alike are showing little patience for border blockades as protesters restrict traffic on the Ambassador Bridge – the busiest trade route between Canada and the U.S.

Protesters aligning with convoys and a related standoff in Ottawa blocked the span completely Monday night, opening it only to U.S.-bound traffic on Tuesday. And it isn’t the first border point to be targeted.

(Photo: istock)

A 12-day standoff in Coutts, Alta., has alternated between restricting and blocking traffic entirely.

About 800-1,200 trucks cross between Coutts and Sweet Grass on a typical day, according to Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. In contrast, about 10,000 trucks cross between Windsor and Detroit.

The Canada Border Services Agency was reporting a delay of more than four hours at the Bluewater Bridge in Sarnia at 9 a.m. Wednesday, while about 100 km away the Ambassador Bridge remained closed to Canada-bound traffic.

More disruptions planned

More disruptions could be coming. The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) reported yesterday that rumors suggest protesters could return to the Blue Water Bridge within 24-48 hours. One group of protesters that has previously appeared at the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ont., is planning to return Feb. 12 at 11 a.m., although its earlier actions have not impeded traffic.

Business groups including the CTA and its provincial associations came together in a joint statement yesterday, calling for an immediate end to the blockades.

“Canada’s economy is being threatened as thousands of trucks and millions of dollars in cross-border trade that typically go through these entry points every day is being disrupted,” it said. “Our borders are essential trade arteries that feed businesses and Canadians with essential goods, food, medicine, and critical industrial components that fuel our economy and support critical infrastructure.”

Other associations attaching their names to the statement included vehicle and parts manufacturers, and groups involved in food, health, and consumer products.

Crossing a line

Sonya Savage, Alberta’s acting minister of justice and solicitor general, issued a statement stressing there are limits to freedom of assembly and expression.

“When protesters threaten public safety, disrupt the public peace, or prevent Albertans from accessing vital infrastructure, then they open themselves up to potential action from law enforcement,” Savage said.

“We believe the Coutts blockade has crossed this line. It has severely inconvenienced lawful motorists, prevented commercial goods from reaching their destination, and it has the potential to impede emergency vehicles from reaching people in need of aid.”

At one point, the Coutts blockade stranded truckers who were not involved in the protest for several days.

Children in Ottawa trucks

As of Tuesday, Ottawa counted more than 100 demonstrators in the Wellington Corridor and 418 vehicles in an area identified as the red zone.

Police in the city continue to see enforcement efforts thwarted, noting that almost one in four of the heavy trucks in the demonstration include families with children. While looking to restrict fuel supplies, protesters have also been seen drinking water from jerrycans, in a bid to raise doubts about what they are actually carrying to vehicles.

Ottawa police say they have so far responded to more than 850 calls relating to the demonstration, making 23 arrests for criminal charges such as driving while disqualified, and issuing more than 1,300 tickets for everything from excessive noise, to seatbelt violations, and a lack of insurance.

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has also granted a temporary injunction against those using air horns or train horns in the downtown core, adding a Criminal Code charge to the practice.

Several provinces including Alberta have already announced plans to lift several public health measures, which are the targets of many protesters. But a vaccine mandate that applies to truck drivers at the Canada-U.S. border remains. The Canadian rules were enacted Jan. 15, and the U.S. version came Jan. 22. Even if Canada dropped that rule, unvaccinated truck drivers would still not be allowed to cross into the U.S.

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