Police begin removing COVID-19 protesters on U.S.-Canada bridge

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Feb. 12 (UPI) — Police on Saturday began enforcing a judge’s order to remove anti-COVID-19 mandate protesters who have blocked the Ambassador Bridge on the U.S.-Canadian border for days.

The so-called “Freedom Convoy” protests, which initially focused on the Canadian government’s vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, expanded to a broader movement against public health measures to limit COVID-19 spread. They began in late January in Canada’s capital Ottawa and returned Monday to block Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit.

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The protests have shut down the bridge, disrupting auto companies by blocking trucks from moving auto parts between the countries. The Bank of Canada warned protesters Wednesday that continuing to block the border crossing will hurt the supply chain.

John Wiebe, a truck driver whose rig was encamped in the protest at the bridge, told CBC News he was aware that the protest was having a significant financial impact, but he indicated that it was worth it to try to prevent economic loss from COVID-19 mandates.

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“Sometimes you got to lose money to make money,” Wiebe said.

Ontario Superior Court Chief Justice Geoffrey B. Morawetz granted an injunction Friday ordering a clearing of the Ambassador Bridge.

The injunction came into effect at 7 p.m. Friday, but police took no action as the crowd grew in size until Saturday morning when around 100 protesters remained, according to CBC.

“The Windsor Police & it’s policing partners have commenced enforcement at and near the Ambassador Bridge,” the police department tweeted Saturday morning. “We urge all demonstrators to act lawfully and peacefully. Commuters are still being asked to avoid the areas affected by the demonstrations at this time.”

On Friday, police issued a message warning demonstrators of impending enforcement.

“The unlawful act of blocking streets at and near the Ambassador Bridge is resulting in people being denied the lawful use, enjoyment and operation of their property and causing businesses to close down,” the message read. “We are providing notice that anyone blocking the streets or assisting others in the blocking of streets may be committing a criminal offense and must immediately cease further unlawful activity or you may face charges.

“You could be arrested if you are a party to the offense or assisting others in the direct or indirect commission of this offence,” the warning added.

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The Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association and several other auto groups requested the injunction, arguing the blocking of traffic has cost the sector tens of millions of dollars daily.

On Friday, U.S. security officials said they were monitoring for possible similar protests that could disrupt the Super Bowl on Sunday and President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address next month.

The protests have been ongoing despite rebukes from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“This unlawful activity has to end and it will end,” Trudeau told CBC News in video footage Friday. “I can’t say too much more now as to exactly how and when this will end because unfortunately we are concerned about violence.”

Meanwhile, unlawful convoy protests have also continued in Ottawa, where there have been 26 arrests made on criminal charges, including two additional arrests for public intoxication.

In late January, Trudeau, who was diagnosed with a breakthrough case of COVID-19, also condemned symbols of racism and violence among the anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate protesters in the country’s downtown capital who continued to block streets. He also directed those who joined the convoy, but don’t support racism or violence to condemn it.

A Confederate flag, a relic from the U.S. Civil War that is associated with racist and far-right elements, and swastikas were also spotted on flags and signs during the protests.

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Protesters in Ottawa also harassed staff at Shepherds of Good Hope, a homeless shelter.

Police told CBC News at the time the anti-vaccine mandate protests included protesters jumping on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, defacing of a statue of athlete Terry Fox with anti-vaccine material, and a Canadian flag being turned upside down.

“All Canadians have the right to express their opinion or their disagreement with the government, but they don’t have the right to threaten or harass their fellow citizens or to spread hateful messages,” Trudeau said at the time.