Protesters blocking the Canada-U.S. border at the Ambassador Bridge and occupying downtown Ottawa will face potential $100,000 fines and up to a year in jail under new penalties being introduced as Ontario declares a state of emergency.
Referring to Ottawa’s ‘Freedom Convoy’ standoff as a siege and illegal occupation, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the new measures will apply to those who block goods, people and services along critical infrastructure including borders, 400-Series highways, airports and railways. Other penalties will include seized personal and commercial licenses.
“We cannot have people occupying cities, holding them hostage, holding millions and millions of people hostage to do their jobs,” Ford said in a press conference on Friday.
“It’s time to leave.”
Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice granted an injunction against the Ambassador Bridge blockade late Friday afternoon.
“That’s not representative of our truckers”– Ontario Premier Doug Ford
Convoy supporters have since Monday night blocked Windsor’s Ambassador Bridge, which typically handles about 7,000 commercial vehicles a day, forcing shipments to divert about 100 km to the Bluewater Bridge in Sarnia. Several automakers have had to scale back production as a result. Truck drivers redirected to Sarnia have at times been delayed four hours or more.
“Ninety-nine percent of the truckers out there right now are working their backs off to put food on our table, to make sure parts get to the factories,” Ford said, noting that just five trucks are among personal vehicles blocking the Ambassador Bridge. “That [protest] is not representative of our truckers.”
The protesters are targeting an array of pandemic-related measures, and have in particular targeted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, even though many cited measures are enacted provincially. Canada introduced a vaccine mandate to border-crossing truckers Jan. 15, while the U.S. mirrored those rules Jan. 22.
Ford stressed that he supports the right to peaceful protests, but that such rights need to be expressed within reason.
“The trucking industry applauds Premier Ford’s action to implement measures that make it very clear what the consequences are for blocking and impeding the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure in the province of Ontario,” said Ontario Trucking Association president Stephen Laskowski. “OTA will also be working with the Government of Ontario to permanently enshrine such measures in legislation so these illegal acts can be dealt with in the future without having to declare emergency measures.”
Windsor and Ottawa police have already been joined by Ontario Provincial Police to aid in enforcement efforts.
Close to 400 vehicles continue to block Ottawa streets in an area identified as the red zone that has been occupied since the Freedom Convoy and related protesters arrived Jan. 29.
Police and bylaw enforcement officers in the nation’s capital have issued more than 1,550 tickets, while Ottawa Police are now warning of criminal charges and truck seizures for blocking city streets. Tickets for some related penalties have increased to $1,000 fines. Injunctions have also been issued against sounding horns and police have seized some fuel supplies, although protesters have been seen defying those orders.
Enforcement efforts have also been hampered by the fact that there are children in as many as one in four of the trucks, according to Ottawa police.
Other efforts are targeting fundraising. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has cleared the way for the provincial government to freeze millions of dollars in donations though a Christian crowdsourcing platform known as GiveSendGo. Those were contributed through Freedom Convoy 2022 and Adopt-a-Trucker campaign pages.
GiveSendGo appears unfazed. “Know this! Canada has absolutely ZERO jurisdiction over how we manage our funds at GiveSendGo. All funds for EVERY campaign on GiveSendGo flow directly to the recipients of those campaigns, not least of which is The Freedom Convoy campaign,” it said through Twitter.
That’s in stark contrast to the GoFundMe crowdsourcing platform, which after releasing $1 million in donations for fuel and lodging costs linked to the Ottawa convoy, locked protesters out of close to $10 million in donations, citing platform policies against violence and harassment.
Provincial trucking associations have identified reports about other protests planned at border crossings and other key locations across Canada in coming days.
The British Columbia Trucking Association has heard about protests coming to Pacific Highway ports of entry and other crossing such as Sumas and Osoyoos.
In Alberta, an ongoing protest near the Coutts border crossing has reportedly opened a single lane, prioritizing southbound cattle trucks, the Alberta Motor Transport Association says. Further east, the Saskatchewan Trucking Association is reporting potential disruptions coming to the North Portal border crossing.
Meanwhile, blockades at Manitoba’s Emerson/Pembina crossing remains closed by protesters, although livestock shipments are being allowed to cross.
In Ontario, protests are also planned for the Peace Bridge at Fort Erie, while Toronto officials have closed off roads around the provincial legislature ahead of protests that could return there. A “multi-day event” could come to Fredericton, N.B., too.