After protesters blocked a critical economic link between the United States and Canada for nearly a week, trafficking resumed early Monday, bringing some relief to Canadian authorities struggling to tame the protests and industries disrupted by the troubles.
But any sense of accomplishment by law enforcement at the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Ont., has been outweighed by the tenacity of protests in the nation’s capital, Ottawa, now in their third week. Truckers scolded traffic, disrupted normally serene residential neighborhoods and undermined the local economy. Virtually unchecked, they also cut off access to the country’s parliament, the Supreme Court and the Prime Minister’s office.
The loosely organized “Freedom Convoy” protests that rocked Canada began as a protest against the mandatory vaccination of truckers crossing the Canada-US border. But they have turned into a battle cry against pandemic restrictions as a whole and the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau was due to meet with Canada’s prime ministers on Monday to discuss the crisis. Over the weekend, Bill Blair, the minister responsible for civil protection, said the government was prepared to invoke the Emergencies Act to end protests, describing a “critical situation”.
Invoking the act grants sweeping temporary powers to the federal government, allowing it to do what is necessary to restore public order, such as banning public gatherings or restricting travel to and from specific areas. Although the prime minister and cabinet can invoke the law whenever they wish if Canada’s security is deemed to be at risk, the decision must then be approved by Parliament within a week.
The political optics of invoking the law are heavy for Mr. Trudeau, given that the law allows the government to violate constitutional rights in the name of restoring public order.
While discussions about whether to invoke the law were ongoing, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta said they arrested 11 people and seized a large cache of weapons, including 13 long guns, handguns and a machete. He said in a statement that those arrested were linked to a small group of protesters near a border crossing in Coutts, Alberta – which was blocked for days – and that the group was ready to use force against the police if attempts were made to disrupt his demonstration.
Protests continued to disrupt service at a border crossing in Emerson, MB.
Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, announced Monday morning that starting March 1, the province will no longer require people to show proof of vaccination to enter indoor spaces. He stressed that the decision to cancel the so-called vaccine pass was based on the decline in the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, and was not a concession to the protesters.
The occupation in Ottawa galvanized opponents of the vaccination mandate and others exhausted by pandemic restrictions, drawing protesters who flocked to the convoy in a festive atmosphere. Protests have spread across Ontario and Canada, with smaller protests breaking out in other countries. Many of the protesters are on the fringes and some have ties to far-right groups. But there are also ordinary Canadians who are furious with the record of pandemic restrictions.
Canada faced some of the toughest restrictions in the developed world, stoking growing frustration and fatigue as the pandemic raged.
But a poll released Monday by the Angus Reid Institute, a leading polling organization, showed that, three weeks into the unrest, Canadians did not support the protesters’ demands. Nearly 45% of Canadians said the protests had made them more inclined to support indoor masking requirements as well as vaccination requirements for crossing the Canada-US border, the polling organization said.
As the government struggles to ease tensions in the capital, officials have tried to broker a deal for truckers to pull out of certain neighborhoods. The mayor’s office released an emailed letter Saturday from one of the protest leaders, Tamara Lich, in which she said, “We will be working hard over the next 24 hours to get truckers on board. “.