Trucker-led protests against coronavirus restrictions in Canada shut down another U.S. border crossing Thursday, as copycat movements gathered steam overseas and Washington called on its northern neighbor to use federal powers to end the blockades.
The border obstructions have already impacted business, with the key Ambassador Bridge linking Ontario and Detroit out of service for several days — and major automakers forced to cut back production at several plants as a result.
A second crossing in the western province of Alberta has been blocked for days, and on Thursday protesters closed down a third — in central Manitoba.
Citing supply shortages, Ford said it was forced to slow down production at factories in Canada, while some Stellantis factories in the United States and Canada halted work Wednesday evening, General Motors canceled several shifts, and Toyota said its plants were also hit.
In the Canadian capital, police said Thursday they were bringing in reinforcements, issuing more arrests and tickets, and stepping up truck towing operations in a bid to break the impasse that has paralyzed the city.
But protesters were hunkering down and taking pride in how their two-week protest has mushroomed into an international movement.
“You know it’s really bad if Canadians are coming out full force,” said protester Naomi Gilman, noting how her fellow citizens had largely remained quiet “for two long years” of COVID-19 restrictions.
“So I think that resonates around the world for sure,” she told AFP.
France, New Zealand, US
Addressing reporters outside the House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once again called the blockades “unacceptable” and said he was working with authorities across the country to bring them to an end.
“This is hurting communities across the country,” Trudeau said.
Washington stepped up its pressure too, with the White House saying that U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas “called his Canadian counterparts, urging them to use federal powers to resolve this situation at our joint border.”
Despite Trudeau and Washington warning the protests pose an economic threat, rallies inspired by the trucker movement have sprung up elsewhere, from New Zealand to France and Belgium.
An anti-vaccine protest turned ugly Thursday in Wellington, with police clashing with demonstrators on the grounds of parliament and more than 120 people arrested.
In France, thousands inspired by the Canadian truckers planned to converge Friday evening on Paris, with some aiming to move onwards to Brussels.
Paris police sought to prevent the demonstration, saying they would ban so-called “Freedom Convoys” and would stop roads from being blocked, threatening hefty fines or jail — while Belgian authorities vowed similar action.
And in the United States, supporters took to social media announcing a “People’s Convoy” of truckers and “all freedom-loving Americans” to gather east of Los Angeles for a two-day rally beginning March 4 before hitting the road, possibly towards the capital Washington.
Canada’s self-styled “Freedom Convoy” began last month in the country’s west — launched in anger at requirements that truckers either be vaccinated, or test and isolate, when crossing the U.S.-Canada border.
For two weeks they have occupied the capital, Ottawa, with loud protests marked by music, honking and banner waving.
They have caused significant economic disruption by shutting down the Ambassador suspension bridge — a trade corridor used daily by more than 40,000 commuters and tourists, and trucks carrying $323 million worth of goods on average.
Even Trudeau’s political rival, Tory party interim leader Candice Bergen, who earlier expressed support for the protesters, urged them Thursday to end their siege.
“I believe the time has come for you to take down the barricades, stop the disruptive action, and come together,” she said from the House of Commons.
With blockades dragging on, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined a chorus of industry voices warning of the economic impact — saying it was “imperative” that Canadian officials rapidly de-escalate the situation.
Presumably eager to stop the movement spreading further domestically, several provinces including Alberta, Quebec and Saskatchewan this week announced a gradual lifting or loosening of COVID-19 restrictions.
A court has already ordered the truckers to stop the incessant honking that has upset residents in Ottawa and made sleep difficult.
But the atmosphere on the streets of the capital remained one of defiance and celebration. Some 400 vehicles remain camped on Parliament Hill below Trudeau’s offices, against a backdrop of barbecues, campfires and music.
Dennis Elgie, a curling ice technician who came from Toronto to join the protest, called the movement “fantastic.”
“I’ve never seen Canadian pride like this,” he told AFP. “This is history.”