Canadian mayor will seek a court order to move against truckers protesting at critical bridge to US

Originally Published: 11 FEB 22 07:15 ET
Updated: 11 FEB 22 07:20 ET

    (CNN) -- The Canadian mayor whose city includes the busiest international crossing in North American is expected to ask a court Friday for more authority to budge truckers blocking the critical bridge as nationwide protests over Covid-19 rules continue to disrupt transit, with a mounting toll on the auto parts supply chain -- and residents' and public officials' patience.

The stalemate, now in its fifth day, "is causing real harm to workers and economies on both sides of the border," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday, adding he'd spoken with Windsor, Ontario, Mayor Drew Dilkens about the impasse at the Ambassador Bridge, which connects to Detroit.

Truckers in recent days also 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 the nation'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.

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 injunction Dilkens has said he'll seek Friday would expand police's authority to respond to the protesters, the mayor said Thursday.

"I get that this injunction would be a single piece of paper, but it gives police more weight in the actions that they are prepared to take, and they will do what is operationally required to move people out," he said.

If the protesters are "unwilling to move on," the mayor said, tow trucks and equipment would be brought in to help "move the vehicles out of the way" to reopen the border crossing.

The blockades have slowed the movement of goods and caused production problems at car manufacturing plants along the border. Ford, General Motors and Stellantis have all announced production issues.

The bridge "is too essential to both of our national economies, and the livelihood of this border crossing puts -- the importance of this border crossing puts -- a lot of bread on the table for our families on both sides of the border," Dilkens told CNN's Laura Coates.

How officials are responding

Resolving the standoff is a delicate operation, Dilkens acknowledged. Forcibly removing the truckers could cause even more problems.

"It's very frustrating because people just want us to go in and flush everyone out, and 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.

What the protesters are demanding

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.

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