Canadian police made the first arrest of a protester blocking a key bridge to the United States on Saturday, more than a day after authorities tried to end a blockade of the important trade corridor.
Protesters opposed to government pandemic restrictions occupied the Ambassador Bridge for the fifth straight day, scolding international trade and prompting President Joe Biden to call for an end to the siege. But there were still no signs of traffic picking up.
Late Saturday, Windsor police arrested a 27-year-old man for a criminal offense related to the protest.
As police managed to push back protesters from the foot of the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, more people were pouring into the area and the operation appeared to have stalled.
As the afternoon dragged on, some Canadians wondered what had caused the delay, given Friday’s court order to end the blockade and the imposition of the state of emergency declared by Ontario authorities.
“It would essentially send the message that the state is unable to maintain control, where it tries to,” Michael Kempa, associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, told CBC News. .
“The longer it drags on, the more people get the idea that what they are doing is not illegal protest,” he said.
The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest land border crossing in North America. Since Monday, protesters in trucks, cars and vans have blocked traffic in both directions, stifling the supply chain of Detroit automakers.
The “Freedom Convoy” protests, launched in the capital Ottawa by Canadian truckers opposed to a vaccination or quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, entered their 16th day on Saturday. It turned into a larger protest against the curbs of COVID-19, with people joining in smaller vehicles, including cars, vans and pick-up trucks.
At a meeting of his top advisers on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stressed that border crossings cannot and will not remain closed and that all options remain on the table, according to a statement released by his office.
Early Saturday, Windsor Police urged protesters to act lawfully and peacefully. Officers in black uniforms with yellow vests moved behind protesters’ vehicles and, accompanied by police cruisers, slowly advanced on protesters, pushing them back from the bridge entrance.
Ottawa protests escalate
The number of protesters had dwindled to around two dozen by early Saturday from around 200 by Friday evening.
“We are opening this intersection to traffic. If you do not follow our instructions, you will be arrested,” police told the crowd over a loudspeaker.
The demonstrators retreated in a noisy but peaceful retreat, dismantling tents and barbecues. But since then, the police have made no progress, according to witnesses. Concrete barricades were erected in front of police near the Ambassador Bridge to prevent protesters from reclaiming any land.
Some 4,000 protesters gathered in downtown Ottawa on Saturday and some pulled down a fence that had been erected around the National War Memorial. The Ottawa Police established a new command center comprised of federal and provincial police to respond to the escalation.
Protests have spread to other border points, including two smaller crossings in Alberta and Manitoba and Pacific Highway Border Crossing in British Columbia, strangling trade between the two countries.
Canadian police said the protests were partly funded by American supporters and Ontario froze funds donated through a US platform, GiveSendGo, on Thursday.
The Toronto-Dominion Bank froze two personal bank accounts in which 1.4 million Canadian dollars ($1.1 million) had been deposited in support of the protesters.
The protests have inspired convoys and similar plans in the United States, France, New Zealand and Australia.
In Paris, French police fired tear gas at protesters on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on Saturday shortly after a convoy carrying protesters against COVID-19 restrictions entered the capital.
Ford, the second-largest US automaker, General Motors and Toyota Motor Co have all announced production cuts. Companies have diverted shipments to stem losses amid production cuts.
The estimated loss from blockades for the auto industry alone could reach $700 million, based on data from IHS Markit, which puts the daily flow of vehicles and parts at $141.1 million per day in 2021.