Ontario premier issues state of emergency over ‘illegal occupation’

By: - February 11, 2022 2:39 pm

Detroit Ambassador Bridge area | Ken Coleman

After days of a Canadian right-wing protest of COVID-19 vaccine mandates that shut down the Ambassador Bridge connecting the country and Michigan, Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Friday issued a state of emergency.

“My message to those still in Ottawa, to those at our border crossings, please go home,” Ford said. “To those of you who brought your children, please take them home.”

Calling it an “illegal occupation,” Ford said he will move to enact laws to protect borders and other infrastructure punishable by fines of up to $100,000 and a year in prison. He added that he would look at stripping personal and/or commercial licenses from violators.

“People are frustrated, they’re scared and they’re angry,” said Ford. He added, “We cannot have people occupying cities, holding people hostage.”

Border crossings in North Dakota and Montana have been blocked, as well. Those crossing the Canada-U.S. border are required to be vaccinated or face a two-week quarantine. Motorists who are not fully vaccinated must show proof of a negative PCR test collected within 72 hours of arriving at the border and need to quarantine after arrival.

Protesters agreed Friday to open up one lane of traffic on the Ambassador Bridge. The Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, located about two miles east of the Ambassador Bridge, is open but cannot accommodate large trucks.

The bridge is not owned by governments in Canada or the U.S, but is owned by the Moroun family’s Detroit International Bridge Co., which issued a statement on Tuesday that it “hopes for a swift resolution that will allow traffic to flow unimpeded.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday continued to call on Canadian authorities to resolve the dispute at the vital border crossing connecting the industrial heartlands of the United States and Canada. The stoppage has disrupted the Detroit automaker supply chain and shut down plants. 

Detroit Ambassador Bridge | Ken Coleman

“I’ve obviously been burning up the phone line speaking with people from the White House to the Canadian ambassador to our congressional delegation, and some of the leadership in the Canadian government,” Whitmer told CNN on Friday. “We have got to push to resolve this and it has to be swift. And of course, we want it to be safely done as well. But it has to happen. We cannot let another minute go by unnecessarily because this border is too important to our economy, to our homeland security, and as we grow our economy, it’s a crucial moment.”

The Biden administration urged Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to use its federal powers to end the truck blockade. Trudeau agreed with Whitmer and issued a statement on Thursday.

“This evening, I had several meetings that were focused on the illegal blockades and occupations happening across the country. They’re harming the communities they’re taking place in – and they’re hurting jobs, businesses, and our country’s economy,” he tweeted. “We’ll continue to work closely with municipal and provincial governments to end these blockades, and to make sure they have the resources they need.”

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) also called for an end to the blockade.

“The Ambassador Bridge blockade is harming Michigan families, workers, small businesses, and manufacturers, especially at a time when our supply chain is so fragile. I stand firmly in saying full, regular travel needs to resume on the bridge,” Lawrence tweeted on Thursday.  

However, several Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have backed the trucker convoy protest. Rep. David Martin (R-Davison) issued a statement Thursday calling on Whitmer “to work with her partners in the U.S. and Canada to end the vaccine policies that have led to protests shutting down truck traffic at the Ambassador Bridge.”

GOP gubernatorial candidates Garrett Soldano and Kevin Rinke have both issued videos supporting the right-wing protest, with Soldano calling them “true freedom fighters.”

Paul Leland, owner of My Detroit Address, a city-based mail package logistics company. | Ken Coleman

Paul Leland, owner of My Detroit Address, a city-based mail package logistics company that sits 1,000 feet from the Ambassador Bridge, said he supports COVID vaccinations. But he told the Advance on Friday that his business has suffered from COVID-19 mandates. During the last two years of the pandemic, he has had to reduce his staff from four people to a single part-time employee, all of them Detroit-area residents. 

“The mandates have to stop,” said Leland. “I can’t last much longer.” 

Leland said truck drivers and other essential worker motorists such as nurses who travel back and forth between the U.S. and Canada have helped to fuel restaurants in Detroit’s Mexicantown neighborhood as well as convenience stores and other businesses in the Detroit area. 

“Everyone is hurting now,” said Leland. 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.