Saturday, April 13, 2024

Ambassador Bridge officially reopens after 7 days of protest

by SARAH RAHAL The Detroit News
| February 15, 2022 7:00 AM

Sarah Rahal The Detroit News (TNS)

WINDSOR, Ontario — Hours after Canadian police removed protesters camped nearly a week near the Ambassador Bridge, a critical U.S.-Canadian border crossing, the bridge reopened for traffic and commerce, the company that owns the bridge and Canadian authorities said.

"The Detroit International Bridge Company is pleased to announce that the Ambassador Bridge is now fully open allowing the free flow of commerce between the Canada and US economies once again," said Esther Jentzen, a representative for the bridge, in an email at 11:05 p.m. "This action follows a state of emergency declared in Ontario and an injunction granted by an Ontario judge which took effect Friday."

At nearly midnight, the Canada Border Services Agency announced normal border processing had resumed at the bridge.

"Non-essential travel is not advised," it tweeted.

With those announcements, the agency's website for border wait times displayed "No delay" for entry to the Ambassador Bridge for the first time in a week.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday called the reopening "a win for Michigan's working families."

"I want to thank the unified coalition of business leaders and organizations representing working men and women on both sides of the border for coming together to get this resolved," she said in a statement released early Monday. "And I appreciate the U.S. and Canadian governments for hearing Michigan's concerns loud and clear and stepping up to reopen the bridge."

Throughout the protest, the bridge company supported truck drivers by providing meals and coffee to keep them going during the unpredictable wait time.

The bridge had been blocked to traffic in Canada since Monday evening, when a protest at the Capitol in Ottawa spread to other cities across the country. The protesting over COVID-19 restrictions and a trucker vaccine mandate has threatened the economies of both nations, the countries' leaders have said.

"Today, our national economic crisis at the Ambassador Bridge came to an end," Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said. "Border crossings will reopen when it is safe to do so, and I defer to police and border agencies to make that determination."

Windsor Police Service Chief Pam Mizuno said 25-30 arrests were made during the crackdown and 12 vehicles were seized that were in or near the blockade on Huron Church Road near the bridge. Authorities did not disclose how many police officers were deployed.

Protesters who were arrested face criminal charges of mischief, Canadian authorities said. Ontario officials have said they would fine protesters blocking the bridge up to $100,000 and sentence them to up to a year in jail. They also would consider taking away the personal or commercial driver's licenses of anyone who defies the orders.

"I am very thankful for today's peaceful outcome," Mizuno tweeted Sunday night. "This would not have been possible without the professionalism & dedication of all our policing partners & WPS members and the hard work and incredible support from all our other partners & the community. My sincere thanks to all."

Authorities had warned the blockade that prevented commercial traffic into the U.S. would be cleared after an Ontario judge granted an injunction against the protest on Friday.

Regardless, chants of "Freedom!" could be heard as demonstrators were cleared out Sunday. The protests had only grown before then, with crowds gathering at Huron Church Road and College Avenue near the bridge. For almost a week, the scene had a festival-like atmosphere, with music, flag-waving and food.

Richard Drouillard, 40, a former Windsor firefighter, stood in support of the truckers. Drouillard said Sunday he lost his job because he didn't want to get vaccinated.

"We have a lot more trucks coming down here right now from Ottawa and Toronto to back us up," said Drouillard before the police began removing protesters and towed trucks blocking the bridge entrance.

Windsor Police Sgt. Steve Betteridge couldn't confirm if there was credible information that more trucks were on the way. Conversations with the protesters haven't produced meaningful results, he said.

"We started off with this blockade, putting a lot of effort into communicating with protesters, some positive dialogue to find out what their desires were, and over time, it became very fractured, and we were having difficulty finding out what the protesters wanted because we were getting so many different answers on what they were upset about," Betteridge said. "There wasn't any real specified leaders we could communicate with."

Whitmer also shared concerns about preventing future blockades.

"It's important to ensure that this does not happen again," she said in the statement.

"We've made incredible progress to grow Michigan's economy together, adding 220,000 jobs year over year. I know we can keep this momentum going, create good-paying jobs, and lower costs to help families and businesses thrive."

In a statement Sunday afternoon, White House Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall said authorities hoped the actions Sunday would deter future blockades.

"Canadian authorities are taking proactive steps to ensure no further unlawful disruption of the flow of people and goods occurs," Sherwood-Randall said in a statement. "Individuals trespassing on property located on the road to the bridge will be cited for trespassing and their vehicles will be towed."

The United States also has a vaccine requirement for freight truckers delivering goods across the border.

Windsor resident Charlene Renaud lives near the protest site and saw the crowd diminish over the last week.

"I don't care if you want to take 10 shots, but it should be your choice," said Renaud, 56. "You shouldn't lose your job for it. It's insane because we live in a free country."

By 9 a.m. Sunday, Windsor police announced they intended to move on the protesters. By 10:15 a.m. demonstrators and media were ordered to leave the Windsor strip mall at the south side of the Ambassador Bridge or be removed for trespassing.

Business owners were asking people to remove their vehicles from private property.

Police blocked all streets within view of the bridge and limited media to a sidewalk beside a gas station. About 40 demonstrators remained. Some had wrapped themselves in Canadian flags and held signs that read "No Vax Mandates" and "(explicit) Trudeau."

Tom Lyons, a retired Windsor firefighter, was among the supporters Sunday morning. Lyons said while he supports the vaccines, he also supports the truckers who are against the mandates.

"I believe that 90% of truckers are vaccinated, but they don't like the idea of the mandates and digital tracking," said Lyons, 70. "Crazy thing is the truckers drive alone all the time. The old one-size-fits-all doesn't fit all the time."

During the week of protests, U.S. officials rerouted commercial traffic to the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron. The U.S.-Windsor Tunnel was open for passenger traffic.