Protesters decrying COVID-19 restrictions and the federal government itself were moved from the mouth of a crucial trade route with the United States on Sunday, while confusion reigned over whether a group stationed in Ottawa would reduce their footprint in the capital’s core.
Officers in Windsor, Ont., arrested some two dozen protesters and moved others from the busy Ambassador Bridge spanning the Detroit River, towing five vehicles on Sunday at the site where protesters brought traffic to a halt for nearly a week and barring others from arriving on scene.
Windsor Police Chief Pamela Mizuno said officers are working to reopen roadways, but did not provide a timeline as to when that would occur. The reopening would allow the resumption of hundreds of millions of dollars in daily cross-border trade between Canada and the United States.
But despite the show of force as a line of officers marched on demonstrators who had clogged traffic on the key trade corridor, protesters opposed to COVID-19 restrictions and the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continued to wave Canadian flags and holler the word “freedom,” with one shouting into a megaphone, “This is a peaceful protest.”
Wearing a Canadian flag around her shoulders, Windsor resident Karen Parrinello said she’s been coming out to demonstrate since Thursday evening and plans to be there for the long haul.
“As long as it takes, I’ll keep coming back. I can’t stay here all day, but I’ll come back here a couple hours a time every day until it’s better, until all the mandates are gone and we have our freedoms back,” she said.
Police in Windsor had negotiated with protesters over the weekend to get them to leave, warning of arrests if they kept bridge traffic at a standstill.
Police said between 25 and 30 people were arrested, many of whom are now facing mischief charges. Mizuno said roughly a dozen vehicles were also seized or towed over the weekend.
“There are steps we need to take in order to open the roadways so that we don’t encounter the same issues,” she said at an afternoon news conference. “Please note we are moving as fast as we can, however, we need to make sure this is a safe and sustainable solution.”
While Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens expressed his thanks to police, he issued a similar statement to residents of his border city who “respected the process needed to find a resolution.”
“Canada is a nation that believes in the right to freedom of speech and expression, but we are also bound by the rule of law,” Dilkens said in a statement.
Hours later, his counterpart in Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson, released letters he said were between himself and organizers of the so-called Freedom Convoy about a deal to move some of the 400 vehicles encamped downtown to Parliament Hill and away from residential neighbourhoods.
The correspondence between the two sides suggested convoy organizers agreed to start moving trucks to Wellington Street, which runs in front of Parliament Hill, as well as a host of parliamentary buildings including the Prime Minister’s Office. Those moves, according to the letter, will get underway Monday.
If moves happen before the noon deadline Watson set in his letter, Ottawa’s mayor agreed to meet with the protesters who, on Sunday, turned intersections once busy with traffic into dance floors with loudspeakers and draped themselves in the Canadian flag as they wandered downtown streets amid idling vehicles and semis.
In a note to city councillors, Watson’s office said any movement of trucks wouldn’t be “a long-term solution to the occupation,” but a step to reduce the impact on those who live in the area.
On Sunday night, convoy board president Tamara Lich tweeted that plans to relocate trucks would go ahead on Monday, posting the note hours after denying any deal and vowing to stay downtown until federal vaccine mandates are eliminated.
Residents who have become frustrated with a lack of movement on the situation joined with a local city councillor and provincial politician to block a convoy on its way to join up with demonstrators downtown.
Sean Burgess said the spontaneous counter-protest, organized late Saturday evening, should be a clear signal to federal, provincial and local leaders about ending what even Watson has described as an illegal occupation of the capital’s core.
“Ottawa is not the dull city all of Canada thinks, but it’s certainly not a city of people who get out in the street and become activists, particularly spontaneously,” Burgess said by the line of counter-protesters.
“So when you see people in a neighborhood like Old Ottawa South, who would rather complain, and litigate, so to speak, rather than take direct action on the streets, standing in front of trucks saying to the cops, ‘fine, arrest me,’ then you know that something has gone really too far.”
In a statement, Ontario Premier Doug Ford called anew on protesters in Ottawa to leave, while praising the Windsor police, Ontario Provincial Police and RCMP officers who worked to reopen the Ambassador Bridge.
The developments in Ontario came as protests continued around the country in support of the convoys that set up camp in Ottawa.
Police contended with demonstrations at other border crossings, including in British Columbia where four people were arrested near the border crossing in Surrey. That crossing remained open as of Sunday, the Canada Border Services Agency said.
The ongoing protests spurred Trudeau to meet with senior officials and cabinet members. He said in a late night tweet that his “incident response group” covered further actions the federal government can take.
“We’ll keep working urgently on this – to protect jobs, public safety, our neighbourhoods, and our economy,” the tweet said.
Trudeau was also to invite premiers to a meeting Monday about the protests, according to a government source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 2022.
– With files from Justin Tang and Marie Woolf in Ottawa, and Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver.
Noushin Ziafati and Jordan Press, The Canadian Press