Ottawa (AFP) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lambasted trucker-led protests that have shut down central Ottawa in anger at Covid-19 health rules, as France and New Zealand moved Thursday to stop their own copycat convoys.
Police in Canada have threatened to arrest protesters who have joined the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge that links Windsor and the US city of Detroit in solidarity with the two-week-long truckers’ protest in the capital.
Trudeau told parliament the convoys threaten the country’s economic recovery.
“Blockades, illegal demonstrations are unacceptable and are negatively impacting businesses and manufacturers,” Trudeau said in the House of Commons on Wednesday. “We must do everything to bring them to an end.”
To the protesters, he said: “You can’t end a pandemic with blockades… You need to end it with science. You need to end it with public health measures.”
Earlier, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said US officials were “in very close contact” with Canadian border agencies about the bridge blockade.
Psaki also expressed concern about the impact of the protests on the US economy, saying the action “poses a risk to supply chains, to the auto industry.”
The suspension bridge is a key trade corridor, used daily by more than 40,000 commuters and tourists, and trucks carrying US$323 million worth of goods on average.
Several Canadian and American chambers of commerce and industry associations demanded the bridge be cleared.
“As our economies emerge from the impacts of the pandemic we cannot allow any group to undermine the cross-border trade,” the groups said in a joint statement.
A Canadian court on Monday ordered the truckers to stop incessant honking that has upset residents and made sleep difficult.
But the noise is spreading. Similar movements have hatched everywhere from New York to New Zealand.
On Thursday, police and anti-vaccine protesters clashed on the grounds of Wellington’s parliament, with dozens arrested.
In France, thousands of protesters inspired by the Canadian truckers plan to converge Friday evening on Paris, with some aiming to move onwards to Brussels on Monday.
Paris police on Thursday moved to prevent the protest from taking place, saying they would ban the so-called “freedom convoys” by deploying to prevent major roads from being blocked and threatening anyone who does so with a hefty fine or jail sentence.
The night before, the atmosphere on the streets of downtown Ottawa was one of defiance and celebration.
“We’re not going anywhere,” said trucker John Deelstra, smiling from behind the wheel of his big rig, which has been at the demonstration since day one.
Planted not far away, Ontario trucker Lloyd Brubacher offered up the same steely resolve.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he told AFP, adding that he planned “to fight to the bitter end.”
Some 400 vehicles are still camped on Parliament Hill below Trudeau’s offices, against a backdrop of barbecues, campfires and music.
“This is a dramatic situation that is impacting the well-being of Canada’s relationship with the United States and impacts immensely how business is able to conduct its operations,” University of Ottawa professor Gilles LeVasseur told AFP.
‘Illegal economic blockade’
The so-called Freedom Convoy began last month in western Canada — launched in anger at requirements that truckers either be vaccinated, or test and isolate, when crossing the US-Canada border.
Having snowballed into an occupation of Canada’s capital, the protest has sparked solidarity rallies across the nation and abroad.
On Wednesday, Ottawa police warned protesters they could face criminal charges and their trucks could be seized if they continue their “unlawful” clogging of downtown streets.
Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association president Brian Kingston said the Ambassador Bridge blockade was “threatening fragile supply chains already under pressure due to pandemic-related shortages and backlogs.”
Officials pointed to 5,000 factory workers in Windsor, Ontario being sent home early Tuesday because of the blockade, and several auto assembly plants preparing to close, as Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens expressed fears about the lasting impact on Canadian businesses.
Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with Autotrader in Detroit, said North American assembly plants rely on timely parts deliveries across the bridge.
The auto sector “is a significant portion of the economy and an important portion of consumer spending” that has been hard hit over the past year, she said.
Canadian Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino warned of “serious dangers for the economy” and called on protesters to “go home!”
“This is an illegal economic blockade… against all Canadians,” added Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.
Several provinces including Alberta, Quebec and Saskatchewan this week announced a gradual lifting or loosening of Covid-19 restrictions.