The U.S. government is pressing Ottawa to intervene to end the blockades of border crossings and is offering help from the Department of Homeland Security.
President Joe Biden spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Friday, telling him that U.S. factories have shut down and production has slowed as a result of blockades at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., at Coutts, Alta., and at Emerson, Man., the White House said in a summary of the call.
Mr. Trudeau “promised quick action in enforcing the law,” Mr. Biden’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, told a White House briefing.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has spoken with his Canadian counterparts to urge them to use federal authority to end the blockades, said one White House official. Mr. Mayorkas also offered support from his department.
Mr. Biden is being regularly briefed on the situation, and his cabinet and staff are working continuously to get the barricades brought down, said the official, who is not being identified by The Globe and Mail so they could freely discuss the urgent diplomatic discussions.
The involvement of the U.S. government represents a significant escalation of pressure on Mr. Trudeau. So far, he has been unable to resolve the situation.
The blockades, by protesters demanding an end to all pandemic safety measures, have shut down border crossings that usually see the movement of more than half a billion dollars’ worth of goods daily.
At a Friday news conference, Mr. Trudeau said the White House has promised his government “resources and support if necessary.” The Prime Minister said Canadian officials are assessing what they might need. He said “everything is on the table” because “these blockades cannot continue.” He did not outline any specific action he might take.
Late Thursday evening, Mr. Trudeau’s office said he had convened a meeting with an “incident response group” of cabinet ministers and other government officials to discuss what to do. In a statement, Mr. Trudeau’s office said the federal government was providing resources, including RCMP support, to local police. Mr. Trudeau had also spoken with Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens.
“This evening, I had several meetings that were focused on the illegal blockades and occupations happening across our country. They’re harming the communities they’re taking place in – and they’re hurting jobs, businesses, and our country’s economy,” Mr. Trudeau wrote on Twitter.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s office said he was speaking with Mr. Mayorkas. Homeland Security adviser Liz Sherwood Randall has also spoken with her Canadian counterpart, Jody Thomas. And U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has called his Canadian counterpart, Omar Alghabra, to discuss the need to secure vital cross-border supply chains, the White House and Mr. Alghabra’s office confirmed.
On Friday, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the Prime Minister’s officials, including his national security and intelligence adviser, had been in touch with their U.S. counterparts. He said there had also been conversations with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, but Mr. LeBlanc did not disclose who spoke with the Governor.
“We have been very engaged with our American partners because we share their very real frustration with these illegal and unacceptable blockades,” he said.
Mr. Ford on Friday declared a state of emergency, including new $100,000 fines or a year in prison for people blocking roads.
The Ambassador Bridge to Detroit, Canada’s largest single trade connection with the U.S., has been blocked since Monday by a group of protesters ranging from a few dozen to a few hundred, along with about 10 freight trucks and dozens of personal vehicles. Protesters have intermittently blocked another crossing between Coutts, Alta., and Sweet Grass, Mont., since Jan. 29. A third blockade was set up in Emerson, Man., Wednesday night.
Trucking traffic that would normally use the Ambassador Bridge is being rerouted to the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia, Ont., which is severely backed up and has also been subject to intermittent efforts at a blockade. A fourth protest is planned for the Peace Bridge between Fort Erie, Ont., and Buffalo, N.Y., on Saturday.
The holdups at the border have led to delays in food shipments and, in the case of the Ambassador Bridge, auto parts and other manufacturing components, leading to layoffs and reduced hours at factories in the continent’s industrial heartland.
The blockades are part of the larger truck convoy protest, ostensibly against vaccine requirements for cross-border truckers but encompassing a wider range of demands, including an end to all pandemic safety measures and the dismantling of the Canadian government. Transport trucks have paralyzed downtown Ottawa for the past two weeks.
The White House is also watching as anti-vaccination and other rightwing activists vow to emulate the Canadian protests. Organizing efforts have included potential protests at this weekend’s Super Bowl near Los Angeles and a convoy to Washington, D.C., arriving in March. Former president Donald Trump has endorsed these plans.
The U.S. official said the Department of Homeland Security was sending more staff to its incident command post at the Super Bowl, in addition to 500 personnel previously on site for routine security operations. The department is also working to ensure that any potential convoy doesn’t disrupt trade or transportation.
Admiring discussion of the Canadian protests has dominated conservative social media sites in the U.S. for the past two weeks and garnered regular attention on Fox News and other right-wing outlets.
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