DETROIT – Canadian officials are preparing to move against a group of truck drivers who have blocked the nation’s busiest border bridge between the U.S. and Canada in protest of the country’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate.
The blockade, now in its fifth day, has brought traffic to a halt over the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, which accounts for a quarter of goods traded between the two countries.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Friday declared a state of emergency in the Canadian providence, saying at a news conference that authorities plan to enact temporary orders that will fine protesters blocking the bridge up to 100,000 Canadian dollars ($78,500) and sentence them to up to a year in jail.
“Make no mistake: this is a pivotal moment for our nation. The eyes of the world are upon us right now, and what they are seeing is not who we are,” he said. “As a province, as a nation, we must collectively draw a line. We must stand for the values that define us.”
Authorities also will take away the personal or commercial driver’s licenses of anyone who defies the orders, Ford said, calling for the truckers and other protesters to peacefully go home.
The protest has drawn the attention of the White House in recent days, as the blockade has caused parts shortages for some companies, most notably automakers. General Motors, Ford Motor, Honda Motor, Toyota Motor and Stellantis have all had to cut or limit production shifts due to parts shortages caused by the protesters.
The protesters agreed just before Ford’s comments to open one lane of traffic that exits the bridge, CBC News reported Friday. The decision also came before an Ontario court hearing started Friday afternoon regarding an injunction seeking to end the blockade.
A lawyer representing Canada’s Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, which is part of a group seeking the injunction, argued that the one lane being open should not impact any decision by the court.
“It can be closed as quickly as it can be opened,” said attorney Michael Wills. “We are operating under the assumption that the bridge is shut down.”
If the injunction is granted, police could begin to forcibly remove the peaceful protesters. Wills said the economic impact from the bridge closure is estimated at CA$50 million a day.
“Ultimately it will be a document that puts police in a better position for enforcement,” said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, according to a report from the Windsor Star.
Ford’s comments and the hearing come a day after the Biden administration urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government Thursday to use its federal powers to end the truck blockade, according to The Associated Press.
AP reported the White House said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg spoke with their Canadian counterparts and urged them to help resolve the standoff.
Protesters have also been blocking the border crossing at Coutts, Alberta, for a week and a half, and more than 400 trucks have been in downtown Ottawa, Canada’s capital, in a protest that began late last month, according to AP.