US urges Canada to use federal powers to end bridge blockages
TORONTO — The Biden administration on Thursday urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to use its federal powers to end the blockade of trucks by Canadians protesting the country’s COVID-19 restrictions, as the bumper protest against bumpers forced car factories on both sides of the border to halt or reduce production.
For the fourth day in a row, dozens of truckers participating in what they dubbed the Freedom Convoy blocked the Ambassador Bridge from Windsor, Ont., to Detroit, disrupting the flow of auto parts and other goods between the two countries .
The White House said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have spoken to their Canadian counterparts and urged them to help resolve the standoff.
Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Royal Canadian Mounted Police reinforcements are being sent to Windsor, Ottawa and Coutts, Alta., where another border blockade is underway.
A federal government official said he was not ruling out any options. The manager spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Trudeau meets with Canadian opposition leaders on Thursday evening.
Ontario Conservative Premier Doug Ford, meanwhile, moved to cut funding for the protests by successfully asking a court to freeze millions of dollars in convoy donations through crowdfunding site GiveSendGo. Ford called the protests an Occupy.
Canadian officials previously asked GoFundMe to cut funding after protest organizers used the site to raise around C$10 million ($7.8 million). GoFundMe has determined that the fundraising effort violates the site’s terms of service due to illegal activity.
With political and economic pressure mounting, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens announced the city would seek a court injunction to end the occupation.
“The economic harm is not lasting and it must end,” he said.
Authorities in the United States have braced for the possibility of similar Canadian-inspired truck protests, and authorities in Paris and Belgium have banned roadblocks to avoid disruption there as well.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in a bulletin to local and state law enforcement agencies that it had received reports that truckers were planning to “potentially block roads in major metropolitan cities” to protest vaccination mandates and other issues.
The agency said the convoy could start in Southern California as early as this weekend, possibly disrupting traffic around the Super Bowl, and reach Washington in March in time for the state of the state address. Union, according to a copy of Tuesday’s bulletin obtained by The Associated Press.
The White House said the department is “sending extra staff” to the Super Bowl just in case.
The ban on roadblocks in Europe and the threat of jail and heavy fines were also prompted by online chatter from groups calling on drivers to converge on Paris and Brussels over the next few days.
The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest US-Canada border crossing, carrying 25% of all trade between the two countries, and the effects of the blockade were felt quickly.
Ford said its Windsor engine plant reopened on Thursday after being closed on Wednesday due to a lack of parts. But the company’s plant and assembly plant in Oakville, Ont., near Toronto, was operating at reduced capacity, the automaker said.
On the U.S. side, GM sent the first shift home two hours earlier Thursday at its heavy-duty pickup plant in Flint, Michigan, due to a shortage of parts.
Stellantis cut short the first shift Friday at its Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio, due to parts shortages
Additionally, Honda will temporarily halt production on an assembly line during the day shift Friday at its plant in Alliston, Ont. It’s because of border delays. US factories are expected to operate normally on Friday.
Toyota said three of its plants in Ontario closed for the rest of the week due to parts shortages and production also had to be curtailed in Georgetown, Kentucky.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer urged Canadian officials to quickly resolve the impasse, saying, “It affects paychecks and production lines. This is unacceptable.
The Teamsters denounced the blockade, saying in a statement by General Chairman Jim Hoffa that it threatened “the livelihoods of American and Canadian workers in the automotive, agricultural and manufacturing sectors.”
Hundreds of demonstrators in trucks have also paralyzed the streets of downtown Ottawa for almost two weeks now, and have now closed three border crossings: at Windsor; at Coutts, Alberta, across from Montana; and in Emerson, Manitoba, across from North Dakota.
Protesters decry vaccination mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 restrictions and rail against Trudeau, even as many of Canada’s precautions, such as mask rules and vaccination passports to enter restaurants , theaters and other venues, were enacted by provincial authorities, not the federal government, and are already rapidly being lifted as the omicron surge stabilizes.
Trudeau continued to strongly oppose the lifting of vaccination mandates, including the requirement that all truckers entering the country be fully vaccinated. But because around 90% of the country’s truckers are already vaccinated, some Tories have called on the Prime Minister to drop the mandate.
The convoy was promoted and encouraged by many Fox News personalities and drew support from people like former President Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
The Associated Press has identified more than a dozen Facebook groups comprising around half a million members that are used to rally support for Canadian protests or plan similar protests in the United States and Europe.
To circumvent the blockade and enter Canada, Detroit-area truckers had to travel 70 miles north to Port Huron, Michigan, and cross the Blue Water Bridge, where there was a two-hour delay leaving the United States.
The blockade comes at a bad time for the US auto industry. The supply of new vehicles is already low across the country due to the global shortage of computer chips, which has forced automakers to temporarily close factories.
“It’s the last thing any automaker needs, any manufacturer needs, because parts are so scarce,” said industry analyst David Whiston.
Story by Rob Gillies and Tom Krisher. Associated Press writer Mike Householder contributed from Detroit. AP writers Aamer Madhani, Ben Fox and Amanda Seitz contributed from Washington.