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Traffic flows over the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit on Feb. 14 after protesters blocked the major border crossing for nearly a week in Windsor, Ont.Paul Sancya/The Associated Press

Ontario’s auto and food industries expressed relief that goods are moving again on the Ambassador Bridge, but say it will take time to recover from the weeklong stoppage of traffic caused by protesters.

Police on Sunday forced an end to a six-day blockade of the roads leading to Canada’s busiest border crossing, arresting people and towing vehicles to allow traffic to resume on Monday. The demonstrators, like those in Ottawa, Coutts, Alta., and elsewhere, were voicing their opposition to governments’ pandemic health protections.

The bridge blockade choked off about $300-million a day in goods and caused automakers, food producers and other factories on both sides of the border to suspend or slow production.

As they tallied the damage and prepared to restart, businesses urged governments to ensure such an important crossing can never again be blocked so easily and for so long.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invokes Emergencies Act to try to bring an end to the blockades

Ambassador Bridge reopens after police clear Windsor blockade

Denise Allen, president of the Food Producers of Canada, said that at this time of year, about half of the food products on store shelves come from the United States, which makes it even more important to keep trade channels clear. She said it was difficult to watch how long it took for authorities to end the protests.

“We think this could have been done much sooner and with less damage to the economy,” Ms. Allen said. “This has gone on far too long.”

The Ontario automotive industry lost production worth about $1-billion, an amount equalled on the U.S. side, said Flavio Volpe, head of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association.

Brian Kingston, head of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, which represents Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Stellantis NV, said he hopes auto assembly plants will resume production in the next few days. “Obviously, that will depend on the bridge remaining open, that corridor being secure and no further threats to any of [Canada’s] cross-border corridors,” Mr. Kingston said.

LouAnn Gosselin, a spokesperson for Stellantis, said the company, formerly known as Fiat Chrysler, will try to make up lost production in the coming months. Operations at the plants in Windsor, Brampton and Toronto resumed on Monday. “We are working with our carriers to get parts into the plants as quickly as possible to mitigate any further disruptions,” Ms. Gosselin said.

At Ford’s Windsor plant, about 800 unionized workers remain on temporary layoff because of a shortage of parts and semi-conductors, said Shane Wark, an official with the Unifor union, which represents about 38,000 people who work in Canada’s automotive sector.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada spokesperson Michael Bouliane said in a statement that production lines in Cambridge and Woodstock remained halted on Monday.

Mr. Volpe, whose organization was one of the applicants for a court injunction against the protest, said he was baffled police allowed the protest to drag on for so long. “I mean, we’ve all seen protests before,” Mr. Volpe said. “We’ve seen them on public highways. They get moved rather quickly. I saw in Windsor our economy got shut down by 30 pickup trucks and [one] Hyundai Tucson.”

Gary Sands, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, said even a short disruption at the border can be a big problem for food products, such as produce, that have a limited shelf life.

He said the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto, which supplies many grocers across the province, receives 40 per cent of its food supply from trucks passing over the Ambassador Bridge. And while some of the food may arrive just in time for Toronto, it may be too far gone for communities further from the city because of the additional travel time.

“Products that are perishable, you take them two to three days outside of where they should be, and they might not be in a condition where you can put them on the shelves,” he said.

Michael Graydon, chief executive officer of the Food, Health and Consumer Products of Canada, said the inventories of manufacturers had already been quite low because of staffing shortages caused by Omicron infections. He estimated it would take manufacturers one to two weeks to rebuild them and resume normal production.

He said it was very important that governments of all levels put in place measures to make sure the blockades don’t return.

“I get very nervous that this is one particular issue, but if this becomes the new playbook for anybody that has a protest, we may have these issues on an ongoing basis,” he said.

Chris White, president of the Canadian Meat Council, said while he was glad the Windsor blockade had ended, he was worried other blockades, such as the one at Coutts, would continue to disrupt businesses in Western Canada.

Michelle Wasylyshen, national spokesperson for the Retail Council of Canada, said the group is concerned about other blockades and the potential for “continued lawlessness.” She said the retail council supports any call to action that protects critical transportation infrastructure.

On Monday, traffic on roads around the bridge’s on-ramp was restricted to prevent another blockade. Windsor City Council reviewed a motion asking the federal and provincial governments to find a way to better secure the city’s border crossings and to reimburse Windsor for all costs related to the blockades.

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