The Ambassador Bridge is the latest target of protesters opposing pandemic restrictions, cutting off a key trade route between the United States and Canada and threatening supply chains for a significant part of the country.
Demonstrators sympathetic to the days-long anti-government occupation in Ottawa started using trucks to jam traffic on the bridge from Windsor, Ont., to Detroit on Monday.
The intractable position that the Windsor police are now in is underscored by blockades in Ottawa and Coutts, Alta., both of which are stretching into their second week. Out West, the protesters have inconsistently allowed traffic at the border with the U.S. to flow. It was again stopped between Monday and Tuesday, but later reopened.
The economic impact of the Ambassador Bridge blockade has the potential to far outstrip the effect of the other vehicle blockades that Canada has seen to date. About one quarter of Canada’s trade with the United States crosses at that land border, the bridge is critical to industries such as the auto sector, and it is a key supply line for fresh produce and other goods in the Windsor-to-Quebec corridor.
On Tuesday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told the House of Commons that there is a “full-court press” to keep supply chains moving but didn’t say when the bridge might reopen.
Some passenger vehicles were able to cross into the U.S. on Tuesday, but no traffic moved into Canada.
“This is a serious threat to our economy,” said former Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan.
“The one thing Canadians don’t want to see, in my view, is finger-pointing,” he said about the federal and provincial governments. “Get at it and get it done.”
Until last year, Mr. Duncan was the chair of the Windsor Detroit Bridge Authority, the Crown corporation overseeing the construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge. That bridge is being built because Mr. Duncan said there is “no excess capacity” for border traffic on the Great Lakes.
“This will start to be felt very quickly,” he said, with long waits at other border crossings and the possibility for layoffs in a just-in time industry like the auto sector. He said consumers could start to see the effects of the blockade within 24-to-48 hours.
A one-day blockage of the bridge could result in an economic loss of $400-million, said Dennis Darby, president of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters industry group.
Commercial vehicles are being redirected to the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia, Ont. That is adding hours to every trip. The crossing is more than 100 kilometres north of Windsor and the Canada Border Services Agency was tracking a nearly three-hour wait to cross the bridge into Canada on Tuesday.
Seventy Canadian and American business groups called for a “swift and immediate clearing” of the blockades and for the bridge to be reopened.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said on Tuesday that police and tow-truck operators tried to clear a parking lot near the bridge on Monday night but were met by protesters wielding tire irons. He said police avoided a confrontation by agreeing to let the owners move their own vehicles. The Windsor police declined to comment on the incident.
Mr. Dilkens said his city needs 100 more officers, but both the provincial and federal governments said they haven’t received a formal request.
On Parliament Hill, Mr. Mendicino said there are “robust” talks with all levels of government and policing and border agencies to deal with the blockade at the Ambassador Bridge.
“We will continue to work again very closely to see that this blockade is disengaged so that we can keep the supply chains moving across the Ambassador Bridge as well as the wheels of our economy turning,” he said.
But the pressure for the federal government to find a swift resolution is growing.
Mr. Duncan said there is no time to “dilly dally” and Mr. Dilkens called for the federal government to intervene to clear the route that carries a daily total of 8,000 to 10,000 trucks across the bridge.
The Windsor mayor said the blockade group is made up of “professional protesters” and most are not truck drivers.
In a Tuesday statement, Windsor police said they would use a “reasoned, tempered approach” to deal with the protesters. As police forces in Ottawa and Alberta have found, there is no easy solution to the blockades, in part because tow-truck drivers are being intimidated into not helping or are choosing not to.
At a news conference in Alberta on Tuesday, RCMP Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said the companies that could do that towing work haven’t wanted the job.
“Unfortunately, they were unwilling to become involved when it was implied that helping law enforcement with removal would likely damage their livelihoods in the future,” Mr. Zablocki said.
He also emphasized that the Mounties want to resolve the illegal blockade at the key border crossing at Coutts through “safe and peaceful” means. On Tuesday, Mr. Mendicino said his government had approved a request from Alberta for more police officers – the precise number wasn’t released.
In Coutts, Mr. Zablocki said there has been some progress. He noted that the number of trucks involved is down to 50, from 250. He said he’s confident protesters will face charges. For instance, even the parking of vehicles on the roadway is against the law.
“We are investigating. There will be charges. And this does not end when the road is cleared.”
Alberta’s Acting Justice Minister Sonya Savage said the situation has “become intolerable, and it has to end” but she said the government hasn’t applied for an injunction because it doesn’t “see the necessity of doing so.”
The Coutts border crossing is a key transit site for trade in cattle, beef and produce. The Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters Association has said the crossing usually sees $44-million per day in two-way trade
The chairman of the Detroit International Bridge Company, which owns the Ambassador Bridge, called on officials to “take prompt action” to resolve the situation quickly.
“International commerce needs to resume,” Matt Moroun said in a statement, noting that the company and his family sympathize with truck drivers and others caught up in the blockade.
The Ontario Trucking Association noted that Sarnia’s Blue Water Bridge, where trucks are diverting, has also seen protests and on Sunday demonstrators stopped all traffic on the bridge for nine hours.
Diverting a truck from the Windsor to the Sarnia bridge could cost companies an additional $500 and add nearly four hours of transport time, according to Louis Calsavera, owner of Windsor Pallet Ltd., which provides wooden pallets for trucks making journeys over the border.
He said some companies today are choosing to put a hold on deliveries instead of taking on extra cost or delays, as drivers who could typically make three trips can now only make one.
Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, said the people blocking the Ambassador Bridge are doing so under the guise of truckers, and do not have the support of driver unions or trucking companies.
The Detroit-Windsor crossing is “extremely important” and carries $50-million a day in auto parts from Canadian factories to the United States, and a similar amount from U.S. auto plants to Canada, Mr. Volpe said.
He said it could be a day or two before the blockade affects production. He predicted that the Ontario auto industry, which employs more than 100,000 people, would be able to absorb the hit.
With reports from Irene Galea in Toronto, The Canadian Press and Reuters
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