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Ontario threatens to fine and jail protesters to end mandate blockade

(Reuters) – The Canadian province of Ontario declared a state of emergency on Friday and Prime Minister Doug Ford threatened fines and jail time as authorities came under increasing pressure from states. United to end protests against the vaccine mandate that have drastically reduced trade between the two nations.

The “freedom convoy” of Canadian truckers opposed to a vaccination or quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, mirrored by the US government, began with the occupation of Canada’s capital, Ottawa. Truckers then blocked the Ambassador Bridge earlier this week and closed two other smaller border crossings.

The closure of the bridge, North America’s busiest international land border crossing and a key supply route for Detroit automakers, halted some auto production and left authorities scrambling to limit damage economic.

“I will convene Cabinet to use lawful authorities to issue urgent orders that will make it clear that it is illegal and punishable to block and impede the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure,” Mr. Ford said during a Friday press briefing. .

Mr Ford also promised further legal action against protesters, including fines and potential jail time for failing to comply with government orders.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Friday she pushed the Canadian government to bring the protest under control and that the bridge blockade was hurting her state.

“The Canadian government must do whatever it takes to resolve this issue safely and quickly,” Governor Whitmer told CNN in an interview.

Canadian auto parts maker Magna International said on Friday the closure of the Ambassador Bridge had begun to have an initial impact on some areas of the company’s business as it became the latest company to be swept away by the protests. truckers. Shares of the company fell 4.4%.

The Biden administration on Thursday urged Canada to use federal powers to mitigate disruptions.

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was working with city leaders to end the blockade. Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said federal police forces would be deployed in Windsor, near the bridge, and in Ottawa.

Mr. Mendicino is scheduled to meet with US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Friday, his office confirmed.

Police in Windsor, Ont., which borders Detroit, said they have received additional resources from outside jurisdictions to “support a peaceful resolution of the current protest on and near the Ambassador Bridge.”

In Ottawa, the epicenter of the protests, police were waiting Thursday for a request for provincial and federal reinforcements to be completed. They have made 25 arrests so far. City Police Chief Peter Sloly expects reinforcements to arrive within the next 48 hours before a possible increase in protesters in the city over the weekend.

“This is a very sophisticated level of protesters. They have the ability to lead a strong organization here provincially and nationally, and we’re seeing that unfold in real time,” Sloly said. to journalists.

Canada sends 75% of its exports to the United States, and the bridge typically handles 8,000 trucks a day, accounting for a quarter of all cross-border trade, or about C$500 million ($392.56 million) per day.

About C$100 million worth of auto parts crosses the border every day, and many shipments are scheduled to arrive when manufacturers need them.

General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., the parent company of Chrysler Stellantis and Toyota Motor Corp. were affected by the blockades.

Although officials at the federal, provincial and municipal levels held regular meetings, they had limited impact on the ground.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens has sought an injunction from the Ontario Superior Court to evict the protesters from the bridge, adding that he is working to resolve the issue peacefully and ensure no one is harmed .

As many pandemic-weary Western countries approach the two-year mark of coronavirus restrictions, protests against copycats have spread to Australia, New Zealand and France, although the wave of infections caused by the highly infectious omicron variant has begun to subside in some places.