The protests started as a “Freedom Convoy” occupying downtown Ottawa, opposing a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border truckers mirrored by the U.S. government. But they have also aired grievances about a carbon tax and other legislation, and recently spread to border crossings, including the Ambassador Bridge, a key supply route for Detroit’s carmakers and agricultural products, drawing the attention of U.S. and Canadian officials.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Wednesday “it’s important for everyone in Canada and the United States to understand what the impact of this blockage is – potential impact – on workers, on the supply chain, and that is where we’re most focused.”
The bridge closure has caused a shortage of parts at carmaker Stellantis’ assembly plant in Windsor, Ontario. Production has also been affected at Ford Motor Co.
Police in Ottawa are promising stricter action to end the protests that occupied the main street in downtown, home to main government buildings, the parliament house and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s residence.
Ottawa police on Wednesday laid out threats, ranging from arrests without warrants to seizure of vehicles, to truck drivers gridlocking the city’s core. Despite their warnings to enforce existing laws for days now, only 23 arrests have been made.
“The unlawful act of blocking streets in the downtown core is resulting in people being denied the lawful use, enjoyment and operation of their property,” police said.
Canadian federal ministers have called the blockade illegal and asked protesters to return home.
“Those participating in the convoy are hurting Canadians. They pose serious dangers for the economy and they are breaking the law,” Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters on Wednesday.
Trudeau has stood firm despite some of his own party members criticizing the government’s strict rules to curb the virus.
Canadians have largely followed government health measures, with nearly 79% of the eligible population inoculated with two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. A recent poll found 62% of Canadians surveyed oppose the “Freedom Convoy”.
Some provinces, including the two most populous provinces of Ontario and Quebec, have started lifting their COVID-19 restrictions to combat the highly transmissible Omicron variant that emerged late last year.
(Reporting Ismail Shakil in Bengarulu; Editing by Richard Chang)
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