A judge on Friday ordered protesters at the Ambassador Bridge over the US-Canadian border to end the five-day-old blockade that has disrupted the flow of goods between the two countries and forced the auto industry on both sides to roll back production.
It was not immediately clear when or if law enforcement officers would be sent in to remove the demonstrators, who parked their pickups and other vehicles in a protest against the country’s Covid-19 restrictions and an outpouring of fury toward Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government.
Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz of the Ontario Superior Court said during a virtual hearing that the order would be effective at 7pm to give protesters time to leave.
Windsor police immediately warned that demonstrators blocking the streets could be subject to arrest and their vehicles may be seized.
The decision came after a 4 1/2-hour court hearing at which the city of Windsor and lawyers for auto parts makers argued that the blockade was causing undue economic harm for the city and region.
Supporters of the protesters, some of them truckers, argued that an order would disrupt their right to peacefully protest vaccine mandates that hinder their ability to earn a living.
Since Monday, drivers mostly in pickup trucks have bottled up the bridge connecting Windsor to Detroit. Hundreds more truckers have paralyzed downtown Ottawa over the past two weeks.
The ruling came in a day of fast-moving developments as federal, provincial and local officials moved simultaneously on different fronts to try to break the so-called Freedom Convoy standoff.
“This unlawful activity has to end and it will end,” Trudeau warned just hours earlier.
“We heard you. It’s time to go home now,” the prime minister said, cautioning that “everything is on the table” for ending the blockades.
Also on Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency and threatened heavy penalties against those who interfere with the free flow of goods and people.
Ford said he will convene the provincial cabinet on Saturday to urgently enact measures that make it “crystal clear” it is illegal to block critical infrastructure. Violators will face up to a year in prison and a maximum fine of $100,000, he said.
“There will be consequences for these actions, and they will be severe,” Ford said. “This is a pivotal, pivotal moment for our nation.”
The measures will also provide additional authority “to consider taking away the personal and commercial licenses of anyone who doesn’t comply,” according to the premier’s office.
Trudeau called Ontario’s decision “responsible and necessary” and said he spoke with US President Joe Biden about it.
“We discussed the American and indeed global influences on the protest,” Trudeau said. “We talked about the US-based flooding of the 911 phone lines in Ottawa, the presence of US citizens in the blockade and the impact of foreign money to fund this illegal activity.”
Trudeau said that on some fundraising platforms, as much as 50 per cent of the donations are coming from the US.
He said he and Biden agreed that “for the security of people and the economy, these blockades can’t continue. So make no mistake: The border cannot and will not remain closed.”
Trudeau said he understands the protesters are frustrated by the pandemic, but “these blockades are hurting everyday families, auto assembly workers, farmers, truckers, blue-collar Canadians”.
The protests have caused shortages of auto parts that have forced General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Honda to close plants or cancel shifts.
Before the judge’s ruling came down, dozens of protesters in Windsor blocked the entrance to the bridge in what felt like a block party. Demonstrators milled about, carrying signs and Canadian flags — some at the ends of hockey sticks — while music played and food handed out. A trampoline was set up for the children.
Troy Holman, a 32-year-old Windsor resident who has protested every day this week, said he believes the government overreached with its Covid-19 restrictions, which he said hurt his wife’s small business.
“Unfortunately, we have to be here, because this is what’s going to get the attention of the government,” he said.
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