The protest of hundreds of Canadian truckers against the mandatory vaccination against covid-19 for cross-border trips that keeps the capital, Ottawa, semi-paralyzed for the eleventh consecutive day extended on Monday to the main border crossing with the United States, after having ignited in other cities in Canada, such as Toronto and Quebec, and even beyond the borders between these two countries. In New Zealand and Australia, radical and anti-vaccine groups have shown solidarity with the mobilization of a sector of Canadian carriers. New Zealand truck drivers have been blocking the streets around Wellington’s Parliament since Tuesday, according to New Zealand Radio. Three demonstrators have been arrested this Wednesday during the protests in front of the headquarters of this institution.
While demonstrations similar to the one that led to the declaration of a state of emergency in Ottawa on Monday germinate more modestly thousands of kilometers away, the blockade on the Canadian capital – which has already led to the arrest of more than 20 people, according to official sources – has been amplified in recent days and threatens even the country’s basic supply chain. Trucks and vans of the so-called Freedom Caravan have blocked since Monday the main border crossing between Canada and the United States, which runs along the Ambassador Bridge, which connects the city of Windsor, in the Canadian province of Ontario with Detroit, in the state of Michigan, in the United States.
Canada allocates 75% of its exports to the United States, and an average of 8,000 trucks cross that border crossing every day, about 765 kilometers from Ottawa. More than 40,000 people and goods worth 323 million dollars (282 million euros) transit through it every day. Despite the partial reopening on the Canadian side, the crossing remains blocked as the Michigan Department of Transportation keeps the U.S. border closed.
On Tuesday night, Windsor police reported on their social media that only a limited number of private vehicles could travel in the direction of the United States. In its Twitter account, the police of that Canadian city urged the rest of the drivers to look for “alternative” routes, such as the Blue Water Bridge, which connects Sarnia, also in the province of Ontario, with Port Huron (Michigan). This long detour prompted protests from several users on social media. 60% of Canadians oppose the mobilization of the country’s truckers’ anti-vaccine sector, according to a poll released Monday.
In an emergency session convened Monday in the lower house of the country’s parliament, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had declared that, after more than a week of occupation of downtown Ottawa, the truckers’ protest “had to stop” and urged the transporters and the thousands of members of the anti-vaccine groups that support them to return home. Trudeau also said the protest is “blocking” Canadian democracy and the economy. After the stoppage of traffic on the passage with the United States, the Minister of Public Safety of Canada, Marco Mendicino, affirmed, for his part, that the authorities “will continue to work” to “keep the supply chains through the Ambassador Bridge, as well as the wheels of our economy running.”Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
Ottawa Deputy Police Chief Steve Bell told the media earlier that day that officers have immobilized many of the heavy vehicles taking part in the protest on the streets of Ottawa. Bell also revealed that, in a quarter of the 418 vehicles counted in the capital, the police have verified the presence of children, exposed to the intense cold of the Canadian winter, the constant noise of the horns, the inhalation of carbon monoxide and the lack of access to hygiene and sanitation services. Ottawa’s mayor earlier this week called for 1,800 more police to contain the protest.
As nearly 500 trucks continue to obstruct traffic in Ottawa, residents of downtown Ottawa have expressed outrage at the unrest caused by the protest. Some residents of the city have denounced that the thousands of protesters who invaded the center over the weekend even forced the closure of shops. “We’re all fed up,” Marika Morris, a resident of the area, told Reuters. “They have no right to take us hostage,” he said.
Residents’ nerves have also been disturbed by the constant sound of horns. On Monday, an Ottawa judge ruled that truckers must stop touching them for 10 days”There has been nothing but love, unity and peace here,” said John Van Vleet, an Ontario truck driver. “For me it is important to come here to fight for my freedoms,” said this transporter, who denied the accusations of violence against the collective.
The demonstrations have also spread to other Canadian cities, such as Toronto and Vancouver. Since Monday, the truckers’ protest has even sparked support across Canadian borders with rallies in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, and in Canberra, Australia, dubbed freedom caravans.
The protest began on January 29 when some 3,000 transporters from across Canada arrived with their vehicles in the capital. They were joined by between 10,000 and 15,000 demonstrators, including members of radical far-right organizations. Two weeks earlier, on January 15, the Canadian government had imposed mandatory COVID-19 vaccination on cross-border truckers.
Those foreign drivers who have not been vaccinated are prohibited from entering the country. For Canadian truckers without an immunization schedule, they must quarantine for 14 days upon return to Canada. The United States launched the same measure on January 22. Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, said then that the implementation of this policy represents one of the best ways to keep new travel-related infections under control. The Canadian Truck Alliance, which opposes the Freedom Caravan, estimates that about 16,000 truckers who cross into U.S. soil regularly are not vaccinated (15% of the total).
International Bridge Traffic Was Temporarily Cut Off
Police worked Monday to restore the orderly flow of traffic due to disruptions at the Ambassador Bridge exit to Huron Church Road, Windsor police said.”Avoid the area or find an alternative route, if possible,” police said, calling the flow of traffic “temporarily disrupted.”
“Our agents continue to work hard to keep traffic flowing on Huron Church Rd., as well as to ensure order and public safety… We encourage everyone to be patient and respectful,” Windsor police said on Twitter.Windsor police posted a photo online that same day that showed a long line of trucks that appeared to be stationary. They also warned of travel delays and a high potential for traffic congestion, and called on “those involved not to endanger members of the public.”
Access to the bridge was closed from the U.S. side of the border, the Michigan Department of Transportation said Late Monday.”Highway traffic trying to cross the bridge is stuck on several roads and for miles,” agency spokeswoman Diane Cross told CNN.More than 40,000 travelers, tourists and truckers cross the Ambassador Bridge each day, according to its website.
Ottawa Declares State of Emergency After Protests Begin
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency in response to the protests, and most downtown businesses closed or reduced their hours due to the unrest.”No agent has days off, they’ve all been working,” Sloly said Monday. “We are stretched to the limit, but we are 100% committed to using everything we have to end this demonstration. We can’t do it alone.”
“That’s why I’ve been advocating for the three levels of government to bring what they can bring to influence the permanent, sustainable, legal and safe resolution of this demonstration.”With protesters parked in trucks just outside the building, Trudeau acknowledged Monday they had the right to voice their concerns, but said residents don’t deserve to be harassed in their own neighborhoods.
“This pandemic has been horrible for all Canadians, but Canadians know that the way to get through it is to keep listening to science, keep leaning on each other, keep being there for each other,” Trudeau said after stressing that Canadians are tired of COVID-19 health restrictions.Conservative opposition leader Candice Bergen accused the prime minister of dividing Canadians and asked if Trudeau regretted calling protesters by names “names,” with respect to his earlier “small marginal minority” comments.
“Do you regret insulting people who were not vaccinated? Do you regret calling people misogynistic and racist and just climbing and pricking them with sticks?” asked Bergen in parliament.Trudeau responded by saying that most Canadians trust each other to do the right thing when it comes to following the science.”This is the story of a country that got through this pandemic by being united, and a few people screaming and waving swastikas doesn’t define who we Canadians are,” he said.