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A line of trucks waits for the road to the Ambassador Bridge border crossing in Windsor, Ont., to reopen on Feb. 8, 2022, after protesters blocked the road the night before.GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

More than 160 Canadian business leaders issued an open letter on Friday urging officials to take actions to end blockades that have disrupted the flow of goods across the border.

The letter called on governments to provide support to law enforcement to dismantle blockades where protesters are unwilling to move. It was signed by representatives from 162 business associations, including national, provincial and municipal chambers of commerce and boards of trade, and industry groups such as Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, Global Automakers of Canada and Food Producers of Canada.

“Each hour that these blockades continue does more serious damage to our economy and to our society,” the letter stated.

“Manufacturers that depend on just-in-time delivery have been forced to cancel shifts for thousands of workers, shipments of livestock and of fresh produce face serious delays or waste that threaten food security, and deliveries of products that are greatly needed by Canadian families are being cancelled. These curtailments will only grow in scope and impact if the blockades continue.”

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The plea from business leaders comes as protesters opposing vaccine mandates and other pandemic-related health measures have blocked border crossings in Coutts, Alta., and Windsor, Ont., for several days – and spread to other crossings such as Emerson, Man., and Sarnia, Ont. The Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor with Detroit, is Canada’s busiest border crossing, carrying more than $450-million worth of goods each day.

Also on Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency related to the blockades and the Ottawa protests, and announced plans to enact orders making blockades of borders and highways illegal. Mr. Ford said anyone defying those orders would be subject to $100,000 fines and prison terms, and that the government would consider taking away protesters’ personal and commercial licences if they refuse to leave.

And later on Friday, an Ontario Superior Court judge issued an injunction against the protesters at the Ambassador Bridge, giving them until 7 p.m. to clear the area.

In recent days, the protests have slowed or stopped the flow of goods at those points of entry, severely affecting Canada’s trade with the U.S., putting shipments of perishable food at risk of spoilage and causing automakers in Ontario and Michigan to temporarily pause production and send workers home.

Friday’s letter decried the reputational risk the blockades have presented for Canada on the international stage.

“We are already hearing calls to move investment, contracts and production from Canada because of our inability to guarantee timely delivery to international customers,” the letter stated, adding that political leaders from all parties and levels of government should “set aside partisanship and jurisdictional squabbling” and resolve the issue.

The demonstrations began two weeks ago with protesters blocking streets around Parliament Hill in Ottawa, blaring their vehicles’ horns and demanding an end to public-health restrictions, including vaccine mandates for truckers crossing the Canada-U.S. border. Some demonstrations have attracted people affiliated with the racist far right, and some protesters have displayed swastikas and Confederate flags.

In addition to taking steps to end the blockades, the letter asked government leaders to take action to prevent further disruptions elsewhere in the country. The letter asked for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as well as the leaders of the federal opposition parties, premiers and mayors to commit to upholding the rule of law.

Business leaders have for days been expressing dismay with the situation at the border. In an interview earlier this week, Michael Graydon, president and chief executive officer of industry group Food, Health & Consumer Products of Canada – a signatory to Friday’s letter – said the blockades amounted to “economic terrorism,” which, if left unchecked, would lead to product shortages on grocery-store shelves and layoffs among plant workers.

In a statement earlier this week, the Retail Council of Canada, another signatory, also raised the possibility of shortages and increased prices for affected items such as fruits and vegetables.

“At the end of the day, there is an ironic twist in that current protests across the country are portrayed as being about choice, and yet they are actually likely to reduce choices for Canadian consumers and drive costs up for families,” Retail Council spokesperson Michelle Wasylyshen wrote in the statement.

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