Ambassador Bridge, a key bridge between the US and Canada, reopens as Ottawa’s COVID-19 protests continue

WINDSOR, Ontario — The busiest US-Canada border crossing opened on Monday after protesters against COVID-19 measures blocked it for almost a week, but larger protests in the capital, Ottawa, continued as city residents were outraged by the inability of the authorities to return the streets.

Demonstrations against virus restrictions and other issues have blocked several US-Canada border crossings and hurt the economies of both countries. They also inspired similar convoys in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands. US authorities have said truck convoys may be in operation in the United States.

On Sunday, police in Windsor, Ontario, arrested 25 to 30 protesters and towed several vehicles near the Ambassador Bridge, which links Windsor and numerous Canadian car factories to Detroit. The bridge, which carries 25% of all trade between the two countries, reopened to traffic late Sunday evening.

After protesters began blocking access to the bridge on Feb. 7, automakers have begun shutting down or reducing production at a time when the industry is already grappling with pandemic-fueled computer chip shortages and other supply chain disruptions.

“Today, our national economic crisis on the Ambassador Bridge came to an end,” Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said Sunday.

About 470 miles (750 km) northeast of Windsor, protests in Ottawa paralyzed downtown, angered residents fed up with police inaction, and increased pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau planned to meet virtually with Canadian provincial leaders as well as lawmakers on Monday morning.

It seemed that city officials had reached an agreement that the protesters, who had filled the streets in the city center for more than two weeks, were to leave residential areas, but these prospects soon disappeared.

Mayor Jim Watson said Sunday he had agreed to meet with the demonstrators if they limited their protest to the area around Parliament Hill and removed their trucks and other vehicles from residential areas by Monday afternoon. He shared a letter from one of the organizers of the protest, Tamara Leach, in which she said that the demonstrators “agree with your request” to focus on Parliament Hill.

But Leach later denied there was an agreement, stating on Twitter, “No deal was made. Cancel mandates, cancel passports. That’s why we’re here.”

In a letter Watson wrote to the protesters, he said residents were “exhausted” and “nervous” from the demonstrations and warned that some businesses were on the verge of closing.

In Surrey, British Columbia, police arrested four demonstrators on Sunday, and officers in Alberta said they had intercepted and disabled three excavators leading to a border blockade in the town of Coutts.

While protesters denounce mandatory trucker vaccinations and other COVID-19 restrictions, many of Canada’s public health measures, such as mask-wearing rules and vaccine passports for restaurants and theaters, are already being lifted as the micromicron surge flattens out.

Restrictions due to the pandemic in Canada were much stricter than in the US, but Canadians have largely supported them. The vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and COVID-19 deaths are one third of those in the US.

On Friday, a judge ordered an end to the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency with a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison for anyone blocking roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hailed the end of the blockade as “a victory for Michigan’s working families just trying to get their jobs done and for businesses that can get back to shipping their products and production.” She added: “It’s important to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Michigan officials estimate that 10,000 commercial vehicles carrying $325 million worth of goods pass over the bridge every day, of which approximately $50 million is auto parts.

Protests in Windsor began to dwindle on Saturday after police urged many protesters to remove cars blocking the road to the bridge. But in Ottawa, Saturday’s crowd swelled to what police said was 4,000 demonstrators, and a counter-protest erupted on Sunday by frustrated Ottawa residents trying to block a truck convoy from entering downtown.

Clayton Goodwin, a 45-year-old military veteran who was among the protesters, said it was time for residents to take a stand against the protesters.

“I am horrified that other veterans will co-opt my flag, co-opt my service,” said Goodwin, CEO of the Veterans Accountability Commission, a non-profit advocacy group. “This is a fraud. The city was free. We are 92% vaccinated. We are ready to support our business.”

Colleen Sinclair, another counter-protestor, said the demonstrators had their say and should move on – with police help if necessary.

“They are occupiers,” she said. “This is domestic terrorism and we want you to get out of our city. Go home”.

Trudeau has so far rejected calls to use the army, but said “every option has been considered” to end the protests. Trudeau called the protesters “outcasts” of Canadian society. Both federal and provincial politicians have said they cannot tell the police what to do.

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Gillis reported from Toronto. Associated Press contributors Ted Shaffrey of Ottawa, Ontario, and Gene Johnson of Seattle contributed to this report.

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