Canadian judge issues order allowing police to remove protesters at critical bridge to US
(CNN) -- A Canadian judge issued an injunction Friday evening to help end the ongoing blockade at the busiest international crossing in North America.
The injunction, granted to the Canadian city of Windsor and a manufacturing association, will allow police to begin clearing people who have been protesting Covid-19 mandates for days at the Ambassador Bridge, which connects the city to Detroit, Michigan.
Canadian and US officials say the demonstrations have disrupted the supply chain, hurting workers and economies on both sides of the border.
The injunction went into effect at 7 p.m ET.
CNN footage showed there were dozens of people waving Canadian flags in the area out past that time on Friday.
Windsor police warned that anyone continuing to block the streets may be committing a criminal offense and could be arrested and charged.
Drew Dilkens, the city's mayor, told CNN's Alisyn Camerota that if they were granted the injunction, police would ask protesters to leave and if they refused, "one by one we'll start towing the cars if required."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also warned of severe consequences for those who continued to protest, saying in a news conference Friday afternoon that the demonstrators' concerns had been heard but that it was "time to go home."
"If you joined the protests because you're tired of Covid, you now need to understand that you are breaking laws," he said. "You don't want to end up losing your license, end up with a criminal record, which will impact your job, your livelihood."
Protesters in recent days have used semi-trailers and sometimes farm equipment to block key Canadian-US access points at Emerson, Manitoba, and Pembina, North Dakota, as well as at the Coutts access point between Alberta and Montana. And for two weeks, they've blockaded the downtown core of Ottawa, Canada's capital -- including at its main airport -- prompting a judge there to rule they must stop honking.
The protests were sparked by truckers who oppose Canada's new rule that requires them to be fully vaccinated when crossing the Canadian-US border or face a two-week quarantine. Their "Freedom Convoy" has since drawn supporters resisting other Covid-19 preventative measures, including mask mandates, lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings.
In his Friday news conference, the prime minister said many of the protesters who are part of these blockades do not represent the roughly 90% of truckers who the Canadian government says have been vaccinated against Covid-19. And while much of the country may be tired of Covid-19 restrictions, Trudeau said, the pandemic is not over and "we are going to continue to follow the science and do what is necessary to keep Canadians safe."
Ontario's premier, who declared a state of emergency, also promised earlier Friday "severe" consequences for those who are taking part in blockades.
"I will convene Cabinet to use legal authorities to urgently enact orders that will make crystal clear it is illegal and punishable to block and impede the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure," Doug Ford said.
Noncompliance could bring a year in prison and a $100,000 fine, he said. "We will also provide additional authority to consider taking away the personal and commercial licenses of anyone who doesn't comply with these orders," Ford said.
Concerns about similar protests in US
Similar protests soon could erupt in the United States, including around Sunday's Super Bowl in Southern California, American officials warn. Right-wing media outlets have raised the prospect of like-minded rallies in the US and offered positive coverage of those in Canada.
The protests already are "incredibly damaging" to many across the US Midwest, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told CNN's "New Day" on Friday.
"It's never been just a Canada issue," she said. "It's been hurting us in Michigan since Day 1."
"We are at an economic crisis because of this illegal blockade," which is becoming a homeland security issue, Whitmer said.
The Canadian government has to do "whatever it takes" to end the stalemate, she said. "We're going to do whatever we can to prevent that from happening in the first place" in Michigan.
Trudeau said Friday he had a direct call with US President Joe Biden, during which they discussed "the American and indeed global influences on the protests ... the presence of US citizens in the blockades and the impact of foreign money to fund this illegal activity."
"President Biden and I both agree that for the security of people and the economy, these blockades cannot continue," Trudeau said.
Possible solutions include persuading protesters to disburse voluntarily; the government giving into demands; and police removing the protesters. Military force is considered highly unlikely as Canada's armed forces are not a police force and they "are not involved in law enforcement in this situation," Defense Minister Anita Anand told CNN.
The Trudeau government will send more officers to protests across the country, saying Thursday the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada's national police force, continues to show decisive action.
"The RCMP are going to be sending additional reinforcements to Ottawa. I also can advise that the RCMP will be sending reinforcements to Windsor and in addition to that the RCMP have added additional resources at Coutts, in Alberta," said Marco Mendicino, Canada's public safety minister.
"Our top priority is to make sure that these illegal blockades end," he said.
How officials are responding
Forcibly removing the truckers could cause even more problems, Dilkens has acknowledged.
"There's a real threat of violence here. We've seen protesters come out with tire irons when the police attempted to tow a car. It could escalate very, very quickly," he said.
"At the same time, going in and moving out 100 or 200 protesters -- well, we could probably do that. What we don't want to see happen is have 300 more show up tomorrow to replace the ones that were moved out. So, police are trying to negotiate."
In Ottawa, there have been 25 arrests since protests began about two weeks ago and more than 1,500 tickets have been issued for traffic, noise and other violations, police said on their website.
A company that could move the trucks also has been threatened, said the city's police chief, Peter Sloly.
"At least one of the major tow trucks (company) that would have been able to supply us with the logistics to tow illegal vehicles and to a significant degree reduce the size of the demonstrations has been threatened themselves," he said. "They have been threatened through some sophisticated online activities and direct threats to harm to their employees and their business."
Authorities might try other options, Sloly added. "We are considering other methods that may allow us to not need to use tow trucks to the extent we initially thought," he said. "All options are on the table."
A criminal investigation into the threats is underway, Sloly said.
Protesters represent vocal minority
The protesting truckers represent a vocal minority among their profession and fellow citizens.
Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with about 4 in every 5 Canadians fully vaccinated, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Nearly 90% of Canada's truckers are fully vaccinated and eligible to cross the border, according to the government.
Dylan Friesen, a protester in Ottawa, was let go from a job at a transport company in Ontario for not taking the Covid-19 vaccine, he told CNN.
"That's not right for companies be able to decide that and take away our right to earn money and support our livelihood," Friesen said.
Samuel Gauthier, who supports the demonstrators, is unvaccinated, which has prevented him accessing certain businesses in his home province of Quebec, he told CNN.
"I can't go skiing, I can't go to Walmart, I can't go to Canadian Tire, I can't go to Home Depot, I can't go to restaurants, I can't go to bars, I can't go to the gym," Gauthier said, noting restrictions in Quebec have been "a bit more intense than in other places in Canada."
The protesters' many different requests make the negotiations tricky, Dilkens said.
"I would call them a leaderless group, and frankly, the requests that these folks have, they are not unified," he said. "There are folks here protesting government, like you'd see at a G-7 or G-20 protest. There are folks that are protesting climate change initiatives, and there are some folks who protesting vaccine mandates."
Meanwhile, officials are pressing demonstrators to stop blocking the critical pathways.
"I've said consistently, we welcome the freedom of people to protest lawfully and peaceful, but this is not a lawful protest," Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said during a news conference this week.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the Canadian city whose mayor will seek an injunction Friday. It is Windsor, Ontario.
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