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Protesters shutting down bridge between Canada and the US

Anti-vaccine mandate protestors block the roadway at the Ambassador Bridge border crossing, in Windsor, Ontario on February 11, 2022. (Photo: Geoff Robins/AFP via Getty Images)

Ontario Premier Declares State of Emergency Over Anti-Vax 'Siege'

"It's an illegal occupation," said Doug Ford. "It's no longer a protest."

Julia Conley

Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency Friday, two weeks into demonstrations in Ottawa by right-wing factions who object to Covid-19 mitigation measures, that have sibce grown to disrupt international supply chains and shut down several bridges at the U.S.-Canada border.

Ottawa residents have for several days questioned whether the so-called "Freedom Convoy," in which a small minority of Canadian commercial truckers and their supporters have occupied the city, is truly a peaceful protest, considering reports of "violence, harassment, intimidation, and hate speech."

"The failure of law enforcement agencies to respond swiftly and appropriately to reports of violence and harassment demands a prompt, thorough, and impartial public inquiry."

Ford's declaration appeared driven by a blockade of the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, which carries 25% of trade between the U.S. and Canada.

The premier said he would push for legislation barring people from interfering with the free flow of goods after auto parts shortages pushed manufacturers to cancel shifts for workers and shut down plants in Ontario and states including Alabama.

"Your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the right of thousands of workers to make a living," Ford said as he called for the demonstrators to disperse, threatening noncompliance penalties of up to $100,000 and a year in prison.

"We are now two weeks into the siege of Ottawa," the premier added. "It's an illegal occupation. It's no longer a protest."

Ford's announcement followed a call by Amnesty International for local, provincial, and federal officials to respond to and investigate reports of violence at the protests, which have blocked at least two other border crossings.

"The failure of law enforcement agencies to respond swiftly and appropriately to reports of violence and harassment demands a prompt, thorough, and impartial public inquiry," said Amnesty International Canada in a statement Friday. "The inquiry must also address instances of interference with residents' rights to public health and social services delivery, as well as the harassment of healthcare workers, reporters, people living with disabilities, and racialized and other marginalized persons."

The organization cited a coalition of women's and children's advocates which earlier this week condemned "the impact these protests have had on freedom of movement, the ability of women experiencing domestic violence to access services, and the ability of shelter workers and other frontline workers and first responders from carrying out their duty of keeping communities safe."

At several protests over vaccine mandates in Canada, journalists have faced threats of violence and harassment over the past two weeks, according to CBC.

"Authorities hold an equal international obligation to protect people from violence and harassment, and to respect the rights of all protesters to peaceful assembly and expression of their views. Violence and harassment however are not part of exercising the right to freedom of peaceful assembly," said Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, citing the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

Despite what advocates say are clear violations of other people's rights by the demonstrators, Ottawa police have "effectively waved a giant white flag" in response to the convoy, wrote Max Fawcett in the National Observer last week. Authorities have advised Ottawa residents to avoid the center of the city where commercial trucks and other vehicles have parked illegally, blared horns for hours on end, and driven onto sidewalks.

As Fawcett wrote, "It's not clear whether the Ottawa police are taking this ultra-permissive approach because they sympathize with the protesters or they’re just scared of them":

They've yet to do much of anything about an alleged assault against a homeless person at the Shepherds of Good Hope shelter and apparently decided not to pursue an incident that involved a local service industry employee.

[...]

The images and videos circulating of police being chummy with protesters, including one where an officer gives the thumbs up and says, "The truckers have been getting their point across… they can't ignore all of this," certainly suggest some degree of bias.

The treatment of the mostly white protesters—who have been cheered on by U.S. Republican lawmakers and bankrolled by several right-wing groups in the U.S.—contrasts sharply with Canadian authorities' response to other demonstrations by people of color and Indigenous campaigners, critics have noted.

While enforcing an injunction order obtained by fossil fuel company Coastal Gaslink in November, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested 29 Wet'suwet'en land defenders, supporters, and journalists in British Columbia as the Indigenous people demanded the Canadian government respect their right to self-determination in accordance with orders from the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The Ontario Dump Truck Association also noted on Thursday that last April, truck drivers staged a protest over costly axle retrofitting that the Ministry of Transportation was requiring. The demonstration, largely led by people of color, was met with swift threats, according to the group.

"Amnesty International Canada notes with great concern the permissive response afforded by the Ottawa Police to a largely white-dominant protest group," said the organization. "This response is in sharp contrast with how law enforcement authorities have mistreated Indigenous and racialized protesters in the past."


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