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Ontario premier declares state of emergency in response to protests


Ontario’s premier declared a state of emergency Friday in response to ongoing blockades in Ottawa and Windsor, Ont., warning of “severe” consequences for protesters who don’t leave.

Doug Ford said he will enact orders making it “crystal clear” that it is illegal and punishable to block and impede the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure, including international border crossings, 400-series highways, airports, ports, bridges and railways.

Fines for non-compliance will be up to $100,000 and up to a year imprisonment.

The announcement comes as a protest against COVID-19 measures has immobilized Ottawa’s downtown core for nearly two weeks while another on the Windsor side of the Ambassador Bridge has blocked Canada-bound vehicles from using the key border crossing for days.

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At the bridge, protesters cleared vehicles from one lane of a street connecting to the bridge on Friday morning, but a few dozen people stood blocking that lane in the afternoon, waving Canadian flags and hoisting anti-vaccine mandate signs.

Windsor police and Ontario Provincial Police were on site and closed all roads that connect to the protest location, allowing people to join the demonstration on foot, but not in their vehicles.

Speaking at a press conference in Toronto, Ford said the past two years have not been easy and frustrations have reached a boiling point for many Canadians, but the illegal occupations must end.

“To those who have attempted to disrupt our way of life by targeting our lifeline for food, fuel and goods across our borders, to those trying to force a political agenda through disruption, intimidation and chaos, my message to you is this — your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the right of hundreds of thousands of workers to earn their living,” Ford said.

“It does not outweigh our right to get food across our borders. Your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the rights of one million people in Ottawa to live peacefully, free of harassment and chaos in their own homes.”

Ford said public health restrictions in response to COVID-19 have helped protect hospitals from collapse and saved many lives.

He noted that Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, is working on a plan to end Ontario’s vaccine certificate system. But that plan has been in the works since well before the convoy protests began, Ford said.

“I will never, ever negotiate (with) people that break the law, (with) people that are in there illegally and occupying cities,” he said.

“I base it on health. I base it on science. Dr. Moore has clearly said it’s time to move forward. I look forward to Dr. Moore’s measures and recommendations, and will continue to work with Dr. Moore to reopen safely and cautiously.”

Ford said the measures announced Friday will not impede the right to peacefully protest, but will provide more tools to help end the “illegal occupation” of Ottawa and the Ambassador Bridge.

Ontario will also add blocking and impeding the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure as grounds under which people’s personal or commercial vehicle licences could be taken away.

Provincial police have provided additional resources to the police in Ottawa and Windsor, Ford said, and the province is going after the convoy’s funding.

The Ontario Superior Court granted a request Thursday from the Ontario government to freeze protesters’ access to millions in donations raised on the fundraising platform GiveSendGo.

The court was also hearing an application Friday for an injunction that would bar protesters from blocking the Ambassador Bridge. The Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association applied for the injunction, and the City of Windsor was granted intervenor status.

Brad Frederick, who’s out of work because he refused to get vaccinated, said that by opening one lane at the Ambassador Bridge, demonstrators wanted to send a signal ahead of the court hearing on the injunction application.

“This is a sign of good faith, to go in and argue in the courtroom and say, ‘We’re opening up one lane, but we’re still exercising our rights to protest,”’ he said Friday morning.

Mary Sehr, who was also at the protest, said she knows someone who’s been unable to work in recent days because the blockade at the bridge has prevented automotive parts from reaching Canada, but she still feels the demonstration is worth it.

“This is a small price to pay if it is going to boost us into the freedom that we all look for,” Sehr said.

David Adams, president of the Global Automakers of Canada, said automakers operating in the country have been hampered by the protests for weeks.

“We’re very pleased that we’re finally starting to see some action, but it’s discouraging when it’s taken this long to get the action underway and it remains to be seen…how long it’s going to take to actually go from decision to implementation,” he said.

The demonstrations have impacted three of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada’s production lines, pushed Ford Canada to reduce capacity at its Oakville and Windsor plants and curbed manufacturing capacity at Chrysler and Dodge-maker Stellantis and Honda Canada.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ford’s new measures were long overdue, and he could have used the powers two weeks ago.

— Allison Jones in Toronto and Maan Alhmidi in Windsor, Ont. (with files from Nicole Thompson and Tara Deschamps in Toronto)

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2022.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2022