Ambassador Bridge reopens after week of right-wing protests

By: - February 14, 2022 7:39 am

Detroit Ambassador Bridge | Ken Coleman

The Ambassador Bridge reopened Sunday night after right-wing protests over vaccine mandates halted international traffic at the essential border crossing for nearly a week.

While protests continue in other parts of Canada, including the country’s capital, police cleared the blockade at the Ambassador Bridge after a court injunction went into effect Friday ordering truckers and their supporters to leave the area.

Windsor Police Sgt. Steve Betteridge said that between 25 and 30 people had been arrested before the bridge reopened Sunday. Police also towed seven vehicles Saturday and five vehicles Sunday.

“Let me be crystal clear: it is illegal and punishable to block and impede the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford tweeted Sunday. “Fines for noncompliance will be severe, with a maximum penalty of $100,000 and up to a year imprisonment.”

Demonstrations first began more than a week ago by truckers who oppose a mandate requiring drivers entering Canada to either be fully vaccinated or face a testing and quarantine requirement.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives the keynote address at the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference, Sept. 22, 2021 | Laina G. Stebbins

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday called for Canada to “take all necessary and appropriate” steps to reopen the bridge.”

On Monday morning, Whitmer said the reopening was “a win for Michigan’s working families who are just trying to do their jobs and for businesses who can get back to shipping their products and produce. It’s time to get traffic and trade moving across North America’s busiest land border crossing again. I will always stand with every hardworking Michigander and do whatever it takes to ensure that our businesses can keep humming along.” 

More than a quarter of trade between the United States and Canada relies on the privately owned Ambassador Bridge. According to the Michigan Department of Treasury, an estimated 10,000 commercial vehicles cross the bridge with around $325 million worth of goods each day.

According to the Anderson Economic Group, the auto industry lost $51 million in wages by Thursday as some factories shut down when needed parts for new vehicles could not reach factories due to the bridge closure.

Republican gubernatorial candidate James Craig, a former Detroit police chief who led the department during Black Lives Matters protests that resulted in the department firing rubber bullets and tear gas at protestors and arresting hundreds, released a statement of support for the Canadian protestors.

“I stand with the truckers. I support all working people who are standing up for personal freedom,” Craig said. “Instead of focusing on the protestors and demonizing the truckers, these career politicians should be focused on how their irresponsible pandemic response is hurting our economies.”

Other GOP hopefuls have backed the right-wing protesters, including chiropractor Garrett Soldano and businessman Kevin Rinke.

Thirty Republican members of the Michigan House of Representatives sent a letter to Whitmer last week urging her to work with the federal and Canadian governments to end the vaccine mandate.

“As you are aware, both Canada and the United States announced in 2021 that all individuals seeking to cross the border, including truckers, are required to be fully vaccinated. This controversial policy – which forces working men and women to choose between providing for their family and making a personal medical choice – is now the heart of the problem shutting down truck traffic at the Ambassador Bridge,” the legislators wrote.

“In the last 24 hours, we have watched with consternation as automotive plants began to cancel shifts and cut hours due to reduced trucking shipments arriving at their destination. We are confident that more shutdowns will take place if you do not work with your federal and Canadian partners to end vaccine mandates at the border.”

House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.) said in a statement that the letter is “absolutely unconscionable.”

“Every day this reckless disruption continues is a crushing blow to our industry and our workers as critical elements of our economy and infrastructure are held hostage by international agitators, who have now unbelievably found 30 new spokespeople in the ranks of the Republican majority,” Lasinski said. “It is absolutely unconscionable that the 30 Republican legislators who signed onto this letter are calling upon our Governor to deliver the bridge’s ransom to the international protesters strangling our auto industry and vital supply chains throughout Michigan. It is time to stand with Michigan industry and not the time to sell-out our values and sovereignty to those peddling anti-vaccine propaganda across the border.”

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

Canadian Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino previously denounced foreign officials weighing in on the protests after former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the protestors.

Mendicino responded that “it is certainly not the concern of the Texas attorney general as to how we in Canada go about our daily lives in accordance with the rule of law,” Time reported.

“We need to be vigilant about potential foreign interference,” Mendicino said. “Whatever statements may have been made by some foreign official are neither here nor there. We’re Canadian. We have our own set of laws. We will follow them.”

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson previously said in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that “what was initially described as a peaceful protest has now turned into a siege of our downtown area.”

Facebook groups have been promoting similar “trucker convoy” protests in the U.S. Company officials told NBC News that many are being run by fake accounts tied to content mills in countries including Vietnam, Bangladesh and Romania, similar to pro-Trump efforts during the 2016 election and previous right-wing efforts protesting COVID-19 health protocols.

There have been similar protests across the world, the Washington Post reported, including at the Champs-Élysées in Paris and an area outside New Zealand’s Parliament.

Reuters reported that police are investigating threats against public figures jointly with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and have charged four people with hate crimes.

Some Conservative lawmakers in Canada have met with and taken selfies with the protestors, and the party recently ousted Erin O’Toole as their leader, which Reuters reported was in part because he wasn’t initially supportive enough of the protesters.

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Andrew Roth
Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth is a reporting intern with the Michigan Advance. He has been covering Michigan policy and politics for three years across a number of publications and studies journalism at Michigan State University.

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