Ontario proposes police powers to block future border protests

Ontario’s provincial government has unveiled proposed regulations that would give police more powers when responding to protests that block international border crossings, such as the “Freedom Convoy” supporters who shut down the Ambassador Bridge.

The Keeping Ontario Open for Business Act, 2022, would let police suspend drivers’ licences and vehicle permits at roadside, seize licence plates when a vehicle is used in an illegal blockade, and store objects used to make such a blockade.

Stellantis manufacturing plant
The Stellantis assembly plant in Windsor is one of those that has had to scale back production because of supply chain disruptions linked to protests on the Ambassador Bridge. (Photo: Stellantis)

The province is also investing about $96 million in tools to support responses during such protests, including enhanced police training, a new Emergency Response Team for Ontario Provincial Police, and new heavy tow trucks needed to keep borders open.

“Ontario is a strong, reliable trading partner, and we are signaling to the world that we continue to be open for business,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a press release. “We will do everything in our power to protect our workers, job creators and international trade relationships from any future attempts to block our borders. The world can be confident that Ontario is open for business.”

Protesters shut down the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., for a week in early February. Police reopened the span on Feb. 13, and arrested more than 25 people, after the province declared a state of emergency and the Ontario Superior Court of Justice issued an injunction against the protests.

The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest land crossing between Canada and the U.S., and typically sees more than 7,000 commercial vehicles per day. But the blockades caused many manufacturers, particularly those in the automotive sector, to shut down assembly lines because of a lack of parts.

The new legislation was unveiled as Ford and Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli travel to Washington to meet with U.S. business leaders, promoting integrated economies and lobbying against Buy American measures.

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the new police measures will be “narrow in scope and will not impact the right to peaceful, lawful and temporary protests.”

“Taking steps to ensure our border crossings can continue to operate regularly in the event of disruptions like those experienced earlier this year is vital to the ongoing safety and security of the people of Ontario and our economy,” said Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney.

The Ontario Trucking Association applauded the move.

“There are more than 16,000 commercial trucks that cross the Ontario-US border each day,” said OTA president and CEO, Stephen Laskowski. “These trucks are moving Ontario’s economy and when they are delayed in getting to market, our economy and those industries who rely on the trucking sector are negatively impacted.

“The multiple-hour delays created by illegal blockades greatly disrupted the personal and professional lives of our hard-working truck drivers,” he added.