The protest against pandemic restrictions that shut down Windsor’s Ambassador Bridge for six days largely fizzled Saturday morning after police moved in on the blockade, leaving questions about why a ragtag group of protesters was allowed to cripple such a vital piece of trade infrastructure for so long.
After repeatedly vowing they would not leave the site unless vaccine mandates were scrapped, protesters dismantled the makeshift camp they’d set up, which at one point included couches, barbecues and a bouncy castle, sweeping up the road with brooms before they left.
On late Saturday afternoon, however, hundreds of protesters were continuing to occupy a stretch of Huron Church Road, the main route to the bridge. The bridge has yet to reopen.
In a tweet, Windsor Police said they planned to begin ticketing and towing vehicles. “Active enforcement in relation to parking in the area of the protest is commencing. Vehicles are being ticketed and towed.”
The police on Saturday night said they arrested a 27-year-old man at the blockade, alleging he committed a “criminal offence in relation to the demonstration,” but did not say what charges he may face. They did not release any further details about the incident.
While the protesters had remained boisterous overnight even after an Ontario judge approved an injunction against the blockade and the province declared a state of emergency, the mood changed after 8 a.m. Saturday with the arrival of several hundred additional officers from the Ontario Provincial Police, Windsor Police and other regional police agencies.
Police formed several lines across Huron Church Road, and as they moved up the road, pickup trucks and cars began to leave the scene. Some carried pro-Donald Trump flags, others were covered in hand-scrawled messages denouncing vaccine mandates and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
As they pushed back the crowd, which included protesters and media, police were telling anyone who remained they would be arrested.
By Saturday at 11 a.m., most of the vehicles were gone, with only a small but angry group of protesters still facing off against the much larger line of police.
Protesters on foot stood their ground despite threats from police that vehicles would get towed and people would be charged with mischief if they blocked the flow of traffic.
By afternoon, the crowd had swelled to roughly 150 protesters cheering and chanting “Freedom.” More than a few families showed up with small children, even though police were armed with rifles and tear gas.
So far, police have not said if any arrests have been made, and the bridge has not opened.
Even at the height of the blockade, most of the vehicles in the so-called freedom convoy were passenger vehicles. Of the 10 freight trucks that had been on site earlier in the week, only four remained Saturday morning.
With horns blaring, they too left the protest site as police closed in, including one white rig featuring a green cross and the message “End gourment corruption” written on the side.
Police had handed out notices to protesters on Friday night warning the new penalties would come into effect at midnight. The notices also stated that the province was also considering measures that could strip protesters of personal and commercial licenses if they refuse to leave.
When midnight arrived, about 200 protesters began singing O Canada, after which a DJ played an audio track from the movie Braveheart in which actor Mel Gibson, portraying Scottish warrior William Wallace, screamed “Freedom”.
The moment was characteristic of a protest that stumbled into existence on Monday when a convoy of protesters in passenger vehicles that had been meandering around the streets of Windsor simply stopped near the bridge, preventing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of goods to flow between Canada and the U.S.
The blockade at the Ambassador Bridge has stemmed the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in cross-border trade, prompting entreaties from U.S. President Joe Biden and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer for Canadian officials to reopen the crossing.
Within days several automakers had been forced to temporarily shut down due to a shortage of parts.
With reports from Reuters and The Canadian Press