Protesters opposing pandemic restrictions and compulsory jabs have continued to occupy a vital Canada-US trade corridor despite a court ruling that the blockade must end.
Increasingy on the defensive as the protests continue to grow and even members of his party join the ranks of critics, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised US President Joe Biden quick action to end the crisis.
Earlier on Friday a Canadian judge ordered an end to the four-day blockade of the Ambassador Bridge, North America’s busiest land-border crossing which accounts for a quarter of all trade between the North American neighbours.
That order came into effect at 7pm local time but more two than hours after the deadline, about 200 protesters, including children, milled around the entrance to the bridge, waving Canadian flags while others set off fireworks.
Police, who started to gather in a parking lot a few blocks away from the protesters, began handing out pamphlets that outlined penalties under Ontario’s emergency order, which takes effect at midnight.
‘No action off the table’
Trudeau earlier told reporters that no action was off the table.
Companies have diverted cargo to stem losses amid production cuts by manufacturers including Ford.
Superior Court Justice Geoffrey Morawetz on Friday approved the request by auto industry associations and Windsor city authorities hoping to end the protests.
Occupying access roads leading to the bridge on Friday, protesters voiced defiance and there was little sign of them backing down.
“Canada is supposed to be a free country,” said Liz Vallee, a protester from Chatham, Ontario. “When that freedom is threatened, we must stand up.”
Vallee said she and others would stay until all pandemic mandates are lifted.
The “Freedom Convoy” protests, started by Canadian truck drivers – and now being copied around the world, including in Canberra – opposing a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, are also occupying areas outside government buildings in the capital city of Ottawa and have blocked two smaller US crossings.
In the US, the Department of Homeland Security is working to ensure that a “Freedom Convoy” event due in early March in Washington DC “does not disrupt lawful trade”.
Adding to earlier calls for action by US officials and business leaders, Biden expressed concerns over auto plant closures and production slowdowns during a phone call with Trudeau, the White House said in a statement.
‘Significant direct impacts’
“The two leaders agreed that the actions of the individuals who are obstructing travel and commerce between our two countries are having significant direct impacts on citizens’ lives and livelihoods,” the statement said.
“The Prime Minister promised quick action in enforcing the law, and the President thanked him for the steps he and other Canadian authorities are taking to restore the open passage of bridges to the United States,” it added.
Trudeau told reporters that he agreed with Biden that the blockades cannot continue.
“Everything is on the table because this unlawful activity has to end and it will end,” Trudeau said.
Biden’s administration had urged Canada to use federal powers to ease the Ambassador Bridge blockade, a step Trudeau’s government has not taken. Trudeau said on Friday his government was not seriously contemplating calling in the military over the protests.