The Ontario government is preparing a series of measures in an effort to break the logjam at the Ambassador Bridge and reopen the most important trade link between Canada and the U.S., according to two sources with direct knowledge of the plans.
Premier Doug Ford intends to get tough with the protesters, one source said. In addition to hefty fines and the possible confiscation of vehicles, the sources said the province is also looking at its options for suspending commercial licences.
The measures will be implemented under existing law but also by changing regulations and laws to give prosecutors the legal authority to act against the protesters, they said.
The Prime Minister, who has been in talks with Mr. Ford this week, was briefed on Ontario’s plans and is ready to provide more RCMP officers and additional measures if requested, the sources said. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the sources because they were not permitted to disclose the internal deliberations.
The proposals, which are still being refined, would mark the first significant move by a government to try and bring the border blockades to an end.
One source said the top priority for the Premier and Prime Minister is opening the Ambassador Bridge, which has been shuttered since Monday. Once that is dealt with, their attention will go back to clearing the already two-week-old blockade in Ottawa.
In another attempt to deter the Ottawa protests, the province on Thursday said it won a court order cutting off more than $11-million fundraised through two separate pages on the website GiveSendGo.
Mr. Ford’s spokesperson, Ivana Yelich, said the order prevents the use of “any and all monetary donations” through the crowdfunding site.
The Premier is expected to make the announcement on blockade measures as early as Friday, according to the sources.
Protesters, sympathetic to the anti-government, anti-mandate blockades in Ottawa, have now barricaded three border crossings in Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba. The protests have disrupted supply chains, forced factories to slash production, and are putting Canada’s reputation as a trading country at risk.
The border blockades are also causing economic pain in the U.S., with at least one automaker cancelling shifts in Michigan. Governor Gretchen Whitmer said the bridge barricade was also risking the state’s economy and the White House said it could disrupt agricultural exports to Canada.
A fourth protest is planned for the Peace Bridge on Saturday, that route connects Fort Erie, Ont., to Buffalo. Pennie Fay, one of the organizers of that protest, said her group has no plans to blockade the bridge but she doesn’t know if others will.
Federal ministers and officials have also been in “close contact” with their U.S. counterparts “to align efforts to resolve this situation,” said a readout from the Prime Minister’s Office. One source said the talks were with the White House and Homeland Security, with an aim to discourage blockades on both sides of the border. The Prime Minister called the barricades “unacceptable” and said Thursday that the protests are “hurting communities across the country.”
“We’re going to continue to do what’s necessary to end these barricades,” he said, but he walked away from reporters when asked to detail how that would be accomplished. Mr. Trudeau briefed federal party leaders late Thursday to discuss the border crisis, after a request from Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen.
After the meeting, Ms. Bergen said she continues to call on Mr. Trudeau to “take action to bring this to an end peacefully and quickly.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the federal government should follow Ontario’s lead and apply for a federal injunction to ensure the freeze on funds applies across Canada.
Mr. Singh accused the Prime Minister of making excuses rather than finding solutions. “Canadians have been missing national leadership,” he said.
The newest border blockade in Emerson, Man., began overnight on Wednesday. On Thursday, RCMP said a large number of vehicles and farm equipment were stopping traffic in both directions.
Collectively, the three barricaded border crossings usually move more than $531-million in goods daily, according to data from the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters lobby group. By far, the most significant crossing is the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., which carries $417-million in goods daily.
“It’s bad for Canada,” said the association’s Dennis Darby. Unlike past supply disruptions that were caused by events out of Canada’s control, these blockades are an “own goal.”
The bridge, connecting Windsor to Detroit, is critical to the agrifood and auto sectors and is a key supply route for fresh produce sold in the Windsor-to-Quebec corridor. On Thursday, the federal government said RCMP officers will be sent to back up Windsor police, and one source said more from the OPP will also go.
On Thursday, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said the city is seeking an injunction to end the Ambassador Bridge blockade.
“This is a national crisis,” Mr. Dilkens said at a Thursday press conference. If need be, he said individuals “will be removed to allow for the safe movement of goods.” Mr. Dilkens on Wednesday warned that doing so could lead to violence because some have said they are “willing to die” for their cause.
On Thursday night at the Windsor blockade, children played in a bouncy castle and on trampolines while a DJ blared music. Vendors had set up tables selling “freedom” T-shirts to the crowd of about 400 to 500.
Roughly 80 vehicles had blocked the road to the Ambassador Bridge, most of which were pickup trucks and cars. There were only about 10 freight trucks among them.
Most vehicles were festooned with Canadian flags as well as posters and flags directing expletives at Mr. Trudeau.
At one point, a speaker took a microphone and urged the crowd to return Friday with friends, noting that police were being brought in to the city.
On Thursday, police from other parts of southwestern Ontario were moving into several nearby hotels. All roads to the blockade had been shut down by police, who kept their distance.
Many in attendance Thursday night carried religious placards. One was Brendan Aymar, a Windsor resident.
He said he was not concerned by the havoc the blockade was causing to automakers.
”It has to happen if we’re going to [get rid of vaccine mandates],” he said.
The provincial and federal governments have largely left the management of the protests to local police. But amid the mounting pressure on governments to end the illegal protests, the federal government has begun calling out Ontario for failing to participate in trilateral meetings, which include the relevant cities.
One source said Queen’s Park doesn’t intend to participate in the meetings because Mr. Ford and his ministers and officials have been in regular contact with other levels of government.
Meanwhile, blockades at Alberta and Manitoba’s most important border crossings continued to stymie trade on Thursday.
The crossing at Coutts, Alta., is critical to Canada’s trade in cattle, beef and produce. Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters said it usually sees $44-million a day in two-way trade. That blockade has been in place intermittently since Jan. 29, and since Tuesday, traffic has been blocked in both directions.
More than 75 vehicles and tractors remained at the Coutts protest site Thursday, RCMP Superintendent Roberta McKale said. About 14 kilometres north, near Milk River, more than 163 vehicles and tractors are crowding the highway.
“People have normalized this,” Supt. McKale said. “It is not normal to have an unlawful protest in Canada.”
Officers are issuing tickets directly to protesters and sending others to registered vehicle owners by mail.
“Don’t come here. Have a lawful protest somewhere else,” she said.
In Manitoba, about 40 vehicles are blocking the border in both directions. However, Dave Carlson, the reeve of the Municipality of Emerson-Franklin, said trucks with livestock are being allowed to pass through. The protesters, he said appear to be “digging in for a longer haul.”
Emerson sees about $70-million in daily trade, which represents almost two thirds of Manitoba’s exports, according to Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters.
Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen proposed no provincial solutions to the impasse at the border and pinned the problem on Mr. Trudeau, accusing the Prime Minister of using “unnecessarily divisive” language.
“It is very, very important, even in disagreement, that he understands he’s still the Prime Minister for all Canadians,” he said.
Mr. Goertzen also said the border falls under federal jurisdiction, a similar position taken by Ontario.
The Manitoba’s Legislature has also been beset by protests for a week now.
The protests began in Ottawa with a convoy of trucks and vehicles driving to the capital from across the country more than two weeks ago. The protesters said they were opposed to the vaccine mandate imposed by the federal government on cross-border truckers. However, their cause has snowballed into a broader anti-government protest and includes opposition to all pandemic restrictions.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance has condemned the protests since the start and on Thursday said in a statement that the blockades are “impairing the hard work of truck drivers who continue to keep our essential goods moving.”
“Many of those who are protesting having their lives disrupted by certain policies are, in turn, ironically disrupting the lives of their fellow Canadians,” president Stephen Laskowski said.
With reports from Mark Rendell, Carrie Tait, and Reuters.
For subscribers only: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.