Canadian police moved in on Saturday morning to evacuate protesters on an economically vital bridge in Windsor, Ont., which connects Canada and the United States, and by noon had driven most pedestrians onto other streets. A dozen vehicles remained, blocking the flow of traffic over the Ambassador Bridge into Detroit, an important conduit for global auto industry supply chains.
A group of police wearing heavy jackets but not wielding shields or other riot gear lined up, cautiously and gradually closing in on the protesters. Officers told protesters they risked arrest if they failed to clear the area.
They are reinforced by a second group of officers in military uniform. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the national broadcaster, showed what appeared to be an armored personnel carrier at the scene. The officers were from the Windsor Police Service as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s national police force.
While an intersection leading to the Ambassador Bridge was cleared in the early afternoon, two other intersections remained blocked by vans and cars, and protesters moved freely between the two.
After police pushed back the crowd, other local residents arrived on foot to increase their numbers, honking and shouting in what sounded like a party atmosphere.
Joanne Moody, a personal support worker from Chatham, Ont., yelled at police on Saturday morning as they formed a line to push the crowd into the street. She stayed at the protest into the afternoon as the tense atmosphere turned festive, with people dancing and waving Canadian flags. Moody, who had spent the past two weeks at the movement’s initial protest in Ottawa, said she wanted to see an end to mandatory health restrictions.
Deputy Chief Jason Bellaire of the Windsor Police Service did not disclose the number of officers tasked with lifting the blockade, citing operational sensitivity. In an interview in front of a police command center bus, he said five other police forces were assisting his department, as well as tow trucks sent across the border by the state of Michigan.
He told CBC there were no arrests and the goal was to de-escalate the situation peacefully and through mediation. Officers would escalate, but only if necessary, he said.
On Saturday, concerns were also raised about protesters blocking the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ont., which connects southern Ontario and Buffalo, New York, and which trucks use to transport automotive and agricultural products between countries.
Constable Philip Gavin of the Niagara Regional Police Service said by email that officers were working to deal with a convoy that had headed for the bridge and that the OPP had closed the lanes. Queen Elizabeth Way towards Fort Erie.
Automakers have been particularly hard hit by the partial closure of the Ambassador Bridge, which normally carries $300 million worth of goods a day, about a third of which is related to the auto industry. The blockades left automakers short of crucial parts, forcing companies to close some factories from Ontario to Alabama on Friday.
As Canada enters the third weekend of a crisis that has brought thousands of protesters to the streets of its capital, Ottawa, and disrupted international supply chains, officials are turning to tougher measures to attempt to restore order.
A court order calling on protesters to disband or face heavy fines or jail time went into effect at 7 p.m. Friday, and the number of protesters has since declined. But on Saturday morning, dozens of protesters, some dressed in fluorescent construction clothing, still refused to leave and crowded an intersection before the bridge, drinking coffee and waving Canadian flags. Other protesters stayed in their vans, idling, to keep warm.
Art Jussila, an electrician wearing a hunting jacket, said he came every day to protest. “All mandates have to go, that’s absolutely not fair,” he said, referring to vaccine mandates.
The protests began as a protest against the mandatory vaccination of truckers crossing the Canada-US border. But they have turned into a battle cry against pandemic restrictions as a whole and the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Premier and Premier of Ontario both warned Friday that protesters would face fines of up to $100,000 and a year in jail if they did not voluntarily disperse.
“We know that the best solution to illegal blockades is for people to decide for themselves that they have been heard, that they have expressed their frustrations and disagreements, and that now is the time to go home,” said said Mr. Trudeau.
Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario, has declared a state of emergency for the entire province, paving the way for a stronger government response.
The protests have drawn the attention of far-right and anti-vaccine groups around the world, raising millions of dollars and inspiring copycat protests in France, New Zealand and Australia. Organizers of a US convoy announced a protest in Washington on March 5.
Sarah Maslin Nir contributed reporting from Ottawa.