Ottawa: Canada’s Ontario province Friday declared a state of emergency over trucker-led protests paralyzing the capital and disrupting trade with the United States, as Premier Doug Ford vowed to do whatever it takes to end the blockades.
The capital Ottawa has been clogged with hundreds of big rigs for two weeks, while three border crossings have been shut down by truckers demanding an end to all COVID-19 health restrictions.
“We will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the border is reopened,” Ford told a news conference, threatening steep fines of up to Can$100,000 ($80,000) and jail unless protesters end their “illegal occupation.”
“To the people of Ottawa under siege, I say we will ensure you’re able to resume life and business as soon as possible.”
The vital Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario, and the US city of Detroit, is used daily by more than 40,000 commuters and tourists, along with trucks carrying $323 million worth of goods each day on average –about one-quarter of all Canada-US trade.
The days-long border obstructions have already had a major impact, with several automakers forced to cut back production as a result, triggering fears it could impact Canada’s economic recovery from the pandemic.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is under mounting pressure to get the situation under control, with Washington calling on its northern neighbor to use federal powers to end the blockades.
Ford, who faces elections in June, has likewise been under fire for several days over his inaction to bring an end to the trucker-led disruptions.
The snowballing trucker movement has morphed over the past weeks into a broader protest against COVID-19 health restrictions and Trudeau’s government – and sparked solidarity rallies across the nation and abroad.
Ford premier acknowledged that Canadians have the “right to peacefully protest when they disagree with what our government is doing” to stem the pandemic, adding: “I know these frustrations have reached a boiling point for many Canadians.”
But he warned: “This is no longer a protest.”
Truckers have “taken a city of one million people hostage for the past two weeks” and have been “targeting our lifeline for food, fuel and goods across our borders” while “trying to force a political agenda through disruption, intimidation, and chaos.”
“We’re in a critical situation worldwide economically. the last thing we need is an anchor around our neck,” he said.
Canada’s self-styled “Freedom Convoy” began last month in the country’s west -launched in anger at requirements that truckers either be vaccinated, or test and isolate, when crossing the US-Canada border.
The Ontario state of emergency came as thousands of protesters were headed toward Paris in similar convoys from across France, despite police warnings to back off.
The French protesters included opponents of Covid vaccination, but also people angry at fast-rising energy prices – in an echo of the “yellow vest” grievances that sparked widespread protests in 2018 and 2019.
Protesters have likewise set up a makeshift camp outside New Zealand’s parliament, a scene of violent clashes earlier this week as police sought to clear anti-vaccine demonstrators.