The Ambassador Bridge reopened late Sunday, nearly a week after demonstrators opposed to pandemic restrictions brought daily commercial traffic across the important trade link between Canada and the United States to a halt.
A spokesman for the Detroit International Bridge Co. issued a statement that said “the Ambassador Bridge is now fully open allowing the free flow of commerce between the Canada and US economies once again.” Esther Jentzen, spokeswoman for the company, said in a later text to The Associated Press that the bridge reopened to traffic at 11 p.m. EST.
The Canada Border Services Agency said on Twitter that the border was open but it recommended against non-essential travel.
Earlier in the day, police made more than two dozen arrests as they cleared protesters that were blocking access to the bridge. The standoff at the bridge, which had blocked traffic between Detroit and Windsor, Ont., was cleared two days after a court injunction against the protest came into effect. Protests and road blockings continued in several other parts of the country, including blockades at border crossings in Alberta and Manitoba.
The breakthrough happened as Ottawa’s mayor announced that he had negotiated an agreement that could see some trucks removed from residential areas after the third weekend of protests in the country’s capital. Late Sunday night, however, an organizer purported to be involved in the agreement said on Twitter that there was no deal.
The Ambassador Bridge shutdown highlighted the impact that only a few determined protesters could have on a crossing that carries hundreds of millions of dollars in goods a day. Within days of it being blocked, auto plants in Ontario were slowing operations or announcing temporary closings.
On Friday, more than 160 Canadian business leaders issued an open letter urging officials to take actions to end the blockades and Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency for the province.
Windsor’s police department, which worked with the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police over the weekend, said 25 to 30 people were arrested on Sunday. Mayor Drew Dilkens said “our national economic crisis” had ended and thanked city residents who had borne the brunt of a protest he believes had little local support.
“You had a situation where you had about 200 people holding up the livelihoods and impacting the lives of several hundred thousand people on either side of the border,” he said. “The lawlessness had to end.”
The mayor said it was time to think about how to prevent subsequent blockades, citing an increased police presence, tougher laws and gates that could be closed to restrict protesters congregating in certain areas as possible solutions.
“This can’t be allowed to happen again,” Mr. Dilkens said. “The economic impact on our nation and certainly our regional economy is just too massive.”
In a statement Sunday afternoon, Mr. Ford called anew on protesters in Ottawa to leave, while praising the Windsor police, Ontario Provincial Police and RCMP officers who worked to clear the Ambassador Bridge.
In Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson’s office released a pair of letters between him and a protest organizer that outlined a scenario in which trucks parked on residential streets would begin moving on Monday, with the bulk of the convoy limited to a stretch of Wellington Street, in front of Parliament Hill and other government buildings.
Mr. Watson acknowledged that such an agreement would not end the protest, which has disrupted the capital, detoured buses and shuttered businesses since the trucks first arrived on Jan. 28.
For one thing, he noted, the organizers still needed to persuade drivers to move their trucks, and then find a place to park them, since Wellington is already jammed for several blocks with trucks, tents and other equipment.
But he said, at least, this step would bring “some relief for the people who have been put through hell over the last three weeks,” in particular from the noise, honking and exhaust fumes of the trucks.
The mayor’s office released a letter from Tamara Lich, who has identified herself as an organizer of the protest and launched the now-defunct GoFundMe fundraising campaign, that said the protesters would start “repositioning their trucks on Monday.” However, Ms. Lich tweeted on Sunday evening that there was no deal, which the tweet described as a lie.
Elsewhere in the country, blockades continued at border crossings in Coutts, Alta., and Emerson, Man. In Southern Ontario, Niagara Regional Police said Saturday they were monitoring the situation as a convoy headed toward the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie. As of Sunday afternoon, that border crossing remained open.
The various demonstrations were largely in support of protesters who have refused to leave the streets of downtown Ottawa for more than two weeks.
The protests have disrupted life in Ottawa’s downtown core, forcing businesses – including the city’s largest mall – to close for security reasons, and requiring buses to make long detours. Residents have reported feeling unsafe to walk in their neighbourhood because of harassment from protesters for wearing masks.
There were large crowds again this weekend in the capital, where on Saturday people tore down a fence at the National War Memorial. It had been put up to protect the monument after some protesters used it as a bathroom and stood atop the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier when the demonstrations first began.
Despite a court injunction granted last Monday to stop hours of honking that had plagued residents, the sound echoed again through downtown. On Wellington Street, there were speeches, music, hot food – and even a hot tub.
The local police have been criticized for failing to intervene appropriately, including this weekend, by Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair. However, Mr. Watson defended Ottawa police, saying the issue has been “a question of resources.”
On Sunday, residents took matters into their own hands, standing in a major street to stop a convoy of trucks from entering Ottawa’s downtown, one of several counterprotests that had been organized in the city in recent days.
The protesters want an end to all public-health measures imposed to combat COVID-19. But the demands of some go much further. A communiqué from a number of leaders of the Ottawa protest called for the federal government to be replaced by a coalition of demonstrators, opposition parties and the Governor-General.
The Canadian Armed Forces said Sunday that three special operations members were being investigated for allegedly supporting the Ottawa protests.
Major-General Steve Boivin, commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, said in a statement that senior leadership were made aware of two allegations on Thursday, one of which involved a member who was in the process of being voluntarily released from the CAF. Another allegation, which involved someone who was in the process of voluntarily leaving the service, came to light on Feb. 1, the statement said.
Maj.-Gen. Boivin said the investigations are taking place regardless of whether members were already leaving the military.
“If the allegations are accurate, this is wrong and it goes against CAF values and ethics,” Maj.-Gen. Boivin said in the statement.
In Windsor, the blockade of a bridge raised alarms among business groups and politicians. Within days, the disrupted supply chain was causing work slowdowns at auto plants.
On Friday, Mr. Ford proclaimed a state of emergency, allowing for steep fines and jail terms for people who block key infrastructure.
Television images from Sunday’s police clearance at the bridge showed police – with batons slung at their waist and without the riot shields seen at many protests – advancing at a measured pace, backed by an RCMP armoured vehicle.
The size of the Windsor protests has ebbed and flowed since the bridge was blocked last Monday. On Sunday morning, only a handful of protesters were visible. Officers in a line of police could be heard issuing warnings – “it’s time to go home,” called one while another said: “if you do not leave, you will be arrested” – before moving in.
With a report from Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press
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