Protests grow in Canada’s capital as Ontario police fight to end bridge blockade

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Canadian police work to clear protesters in Ontario

Police lined up to move protesters blocking access to an economically vital bridge in Windsor, Ontario. It is the third week of demonstrations that began as a protest against Canada’s vaccine mandate for truck drivers crossing the US-Canadian border.

[Crowd chatter] “They want everyone, like everyone, out of here.” “You are all better. Each one of you is better.”

Police lined up to move protesters blocking access to an economically vital bridge in Windsor, Ontario. It is the third week of demonstrations that began as a protest against Canada’s vaccine mandate for truck drivers crossing the US-Canadian border.CreditCredit…Geoff Robins/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As protesters invaded Canada’s capital Ottawa for the third consecutive weekend to vent their anger over pandemic restrictions, police in Windsor, Ontario struggled to tame a blockade at the Ambassador Bridge, a US border crossing. that is vital to the supply chains of the global automotive industry.

On Saturday night, the bridge was still closed. Police had chased away some protesters in the morning, forming a line to push them back, but others stayed, and the crowd grew as the day wore on, despite frigid temperatures.

“We don’t really have a time frame, that’s something we’re not enforcing,” Assistant Director Jason Bellaire of the Windsor police said Saturday afternoon. “They are professionals, they know what they are doing and they control themselves.”

Unrest in Canada began in late January, when a loosely organized convoy of truckers and others descended on Ottawa to protest a Covid vaccination mandate for truckers crossing the US-Canadian border. Most Canadian truckers are vaccinated, and truckers’ organizations have spoken out against the protests.

But the demonstrations have morphed into a broader cry of frustration against Canada’s pandemic restrictions, which are among the strictest in the developed world, and against the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

For the past two weeks, protesters have blocked roads leading to the US border at various points, including Windsor; Sarnia, Ont.; Emerson, Manitoba; and Coutts, Alberta. Automakers have been hit particularly hard by the blockade on the Ambassador Bridge, which normally transports $300 million worth of goods a day, about a third of which is related to the auto industry. Automakers ran out of crucial parts, forcing companies to close some plants from Ontario to Alabama on Friday.

In a meeting with senior officials on Saturday, Mr. Trudeau “emphasized that border crossings cannot and will not remain closed, and that all options remain on the table,” according to a government statement.

In Ottawa on Saturday, steps from Canada’s Parliament Buildings, the streets were transformed into one big festival even as temperatures dropped.

Credit…Brett Gundlock for The New York Times

Thousands of people flooded downtown streets, sometimes making them difficult to navigate. Some covered themselves with Canadian flags; others blared pop music. Some were young. Others were 90 years old. They danced and chanted “freedom”. They criticized the vaccine and mask mandates and Mr. Trudeau. Vendors made quick sales of small Canadian flags and T-shirts that rudely told the prime minister where to go.

Although Ontario had declared a state of emergency the day before, and severe penalties for protesters, including jail time, the few visible police officers in Ottawa were not seen handing out tickets or enforcing the law. They were terribly outnumbered.

“They don’t have an easy job,” said Scott Spenser, 36, looking up from a drumming concert on Sparks Street as a phalanx of six officers passed by. “Hopefully all this ends in peace and they lift the mandates and we all live again.”

Ottawa police said more than 4,000 protesters had been in the city on Saturday. “Security concerns, stemming from the aggressive and illegal behavior of many protesters, limited police enforcement capabilities,” they said in a statement.

They said they had established an “integrated command center” that would “result in a significantly enhanced ability of our police service to respond to the current situation.”

Protests were also held in Montreal, Toronto and other cities, drawing crowds of varying sizes.

The Canadian demonstrations have drawn the attention of far-right and anti-vaccine groups around the world, raising millions of dollars and inspiring copycat protests in France, New Zealand and Australia. Organizers of a US convoy said a protest would be held in Washington, DC, on March 5.

On Saturday in Paris, police fired tear gas after dozens of cars emulating Canadian protests evaded police checkpoints. Thousands of cars, motorhomes and trucks with demonstrators from across France have headed to Paris in recent days to protest against France’s spread of vaccines and other government policies.

But Paris police deployed more than 7,000 officers over the capital over the weekend to prevent blockades, and many protesters’ vehicles were prevented from entering the city. By noon, police had handed out more than 280 tickets, authorities said.

Credit…Benoit Tessier/Reuters

In Windsor, after police chased away many protesters on Saturday, more arrived on foot to increase their numbers, honking and yelling in what seemed like a party atmosphere.

Joanne Moody, a personal support worker from Chatham, Ontario, yelled at police officers as they formed a line to push the crowd down the street. She stayed until the afternoon, when the previously tense atmosphere turned festive, with people dancing and waving Canadian flags. Ms Moody, who had spent the last two weeks at the movement’s original rally in Ottawa, said she wanted to see an end to mandatory health restrictions.

Aurelien Breedon contributed reporting from Paris and Allison Hannaford from North Bay, Ontario.





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