Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday afternoon that the best way out of the crisis gripping the country, as protesters opposed to vaccination mandates occupy the capital and block trade routes to the United States, would be for the protesters “decide for themselves that they have been heard, that they have expressed their frustrations and disagreements, and that it is now time to go home.
But because they haven’t, there will be “an increasingly robust police response,” Trudeau told a news conference in the capital, Ottawa. He added: “This blockade of our economy that is hurting Canadians across the country, Canadians who have been affected by these blockades – this conflict must end.
Earlier in the day, Doug Ford, the Premier of Ontario, declared a state of emergency for the entire province, and Ottawa police prepared for thousands of protesters to descend on the third consecutive weekend of a crisis that has disrupted international supply chains.
If the protesters do not leave peacefully, “there will be consequences, and they will be severe,” Ford said, adding, “Your right to make a political statement does not override the right of thousands of workers in win their life”. He said he would act to break up protests under the emergency declaration and that the maximum penalty for failing to comply with provincial orders would be $100,000 and a year in prison, plus potentially revoking personal licenses and commercial.
Hundreds of miles away, along the border with the United States, Mayor Drew Dilkens of Windsor, Ont., has sought a court order allowing him to remove protesters from the Ambassador Bridge, which carries about a third of US-Canadian trade. An audience was set for noon Friday.
“Individuals on site are encroaching on municipal property,” Mr. Dilkens said on Thursday, and if necessary “will be removed to allow the safe and efficient movement of goods across the border.”
The crisis began two weeks ago, when loosely organized groups of truckers and others converged on Ottawa to protest vaccination requirements for truckers entering Canada. It has morphed into a broader battle cry, largely from right-wing groups, against pandemic restrictions and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s handling of the pandemic. Roads leading to the Canada-US border remain blocked at four points – Windsor, Ontario; Sarnia, Ontario; Emerson, Manitoba; and Coutts, Alberta — by protesters supporting Ottawa groups.
Automakers have been particularly hard hit 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 are related to the automotive industry. The blockades left automakers short of crucial parts, forcing companies to close some factories from Ontario to Alabama on Friday.
The Teamsters union — which represents 15,000 long-haul truckers in Canada, but generally not those who protest — denounced the blockade, which threatens thousands of jobs.
In Ottawa, the Canadian capital, the scene on Thursday resembled a noisy party, with hundreds of people milling between the cabins of giant trucks parked in the middle of the street. The song “Life Is a Highway” played through loudspeakers on an empty trailer that was turned into a stage. But the crowd had thinned out somewhat, with empty spaces where trucks were located.
“Some guys had to go back to work, and the police wouldn’t let us fill those spots,” said Johnny Neufeld, 39, a long-haul trucker from Windsor.
On Thursday, Ontario won an order from the Superior Court of Justice prohibiting the distribution or use of donations raised through Christian fundraising platform GiveSendGo, including more than $8.5 million raised through to a campaign called “Freedom Convoy 2022”, a reference to the protesters’ slogan. But the US-based company said it was considering defying the court order.
“Canada has absolutely no jurisdiction over how we manage our funds here at GiveSendGo,” he tweeted. “All funds from 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 caught the attention of far-right and anti-vaccine groups around the world, raising millions of dollars and inspiring copycat 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 was sending additional officers to Ottawa and Windsor. Mr. Trudeau ruled out sending the army; there are few precedents for doing so in Canada, which has no provincial equivalents of a National Guard.
Some protesters have clearly been on the sidelines, displaying Nazi symbols and desecrating monuments. Others describe themselves as ordinary Canadians driven by desperation.
In declaring a state of emergency, Mr. Ford, the premier of Ontario, called the protesters occupiers and hostage takers.
“As a province, as a nation, we must collectively draw a line,” he said.
Bengali Shashank and Allison Hannaford contributed reporting.