Niagara region braces for planned protest at Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ont.
Supply chain expert says Peace Bridge blockade could cause layoffs, force businesses to close
An expected protest at the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ont., has police, border services, public health and politicians watching closely, fearing it could endanger people or further business woes.
Social media posts show people opposed to continued pandemic mandates have plans to bring transport trucks and crowds of people to the border crossing that connects southern Ontario to Buffalo.
Currently, protests are ongoing in border cities like Coutts, Alta., Emerson, Man., and Windsor, Ont., as rallies that started in Ottawa two weeks ago continue.
Promotions for the planned Fort Erie rally suggest a group from Canada will converge with two convoys from the U.S.
While there's been no confirmed time for when the protest is starting, social media reports point to sometime Saturday.
A website for the U.S. convoys says some of them are coming from as far as Tennessee and will have supplies such as hand warmers, water, snacks, gas cards, hats, washer fluid, gloves and blankets.
It's unclear how long the protest will last, but local politicians and supply chain experts worry it will harm businesses and residents.
How important is the Peace Bridge?
"The Peace Bridge is our third busiest crossing in Canada, and there are approximately 1.2 million trucks that cross that bridge each and every year," said Carol Fleck, co-ordinator and professor with Mohawk College's supply chain management program.
She said those trucks come with all sorts of goods, such as agricultural supplies, food, car parts and plumbing parts.
"If they were to close that bridge for any number of days, we could see closures in businesses because they're not getting the parts to keep them open."
WATCH | Injunction sought to end Ambassador Bridge blockade
She added that because of protests at other border crossings like Windsor's Ambassador Bridge, trucks have been detouring to the bridge in Fort Erie, making the Peace Bridge even more vital.
A closure could force truckers to drive toward Sarnia or Kingston to cross borders, Fleck said, which would cost truckers gas and time. The Canadian Trucking Alliance and Ontario Trucking Association have both called for an end to the demonstrations.
It would be costly to try to fly in supplies that trucks normally carry, Fleck added.
If the Ambassador Bridge and the Peace Bridge are closed together, it could lead to layoffs because businesses won't be able to operate without the materials they need, she said.
Niagara regional chair Jim Bradley and Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop said they worry about locals needing to cross the border for work or businesses relying on tourists.
Redekop said he's hopeful the protest won't become an occupation or blockade lasting days.
The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce said in an email that it is urging all levels of government to quickly end the border protests.
"We cannot allow any group to undermine the cross-border trade that supports families on both sides of the border," said chief executive officer Mishka Balsom.
What are law enforcement, government doing?
The Canada Border Services Agency declined an interview and said it is prepared to "allocate resources and adjust staffing levels at alternate ports of entry to minimize processing times and potential delays as required."
Niagara police also declined an interview, but said it will be monitoring to ensure everyone's safety. It also said it is working with "law enforcement partners."
Bradley said the region is considering all possibilities, which could include seeking an injunction.
WATCH | Are politicians doing enough about protests, blockades?
Police in the U.S. didn't respond to requests for comment, but officials said on Thursday they have had multiple conversations with Canada's Trudeau government about border protests, reportedly offering to help end them.
Ottawa has been facing calls to take more swift action, especially for the Ambassador Bridge protest and initial Ottawa occupation that sparked the national flash point.
On Friday, the Ontario government declared a state of emergency, and will enact orders that make it "illegal and punishable to block and impede the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure."
Clip from Chief LaForme’s weekly community update: “I also believe, and history would suggest I’m right, that if it was us protesting we would already be under attack.” <a href="https://t.co/fl6Kpwd9gK">pic.twitter.com/fl6Kpwd9gK</a>—@mcfirstnation
Stacey Laforme, Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation's gimaa (chief), is among those demanding action, especially after seeing Indigenous ceremonies he called cultural appropriation that have taken place in Ottawa.
The Niagara area is within the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.
"Cultural appropriation of First Nations ceremonial items and protocol is colonial violence. I condemn these actions and harmful stereotypes," he said.
"I also believe, and history would suggest I'm right, that if it was us protesting, we would already be under attack."
Some Niagara-area politicians support protests
Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara region's medical officer of health, said in a statement the planned protest in Fort Erie poses a "high risk" for infection spreading because it "degrades the social norm of everyone staying home and limiting social contact to starve infections' ability to spread
"That social norm, that we are 'all in this together,' is a critical asset in protecting each other during this pandemic."
In a Feb. 7 email to the rest of his public health team that was viewed by CBC Hamilton, Hirji said while the convoys in Ottawa are "effectively practising a form of violence, and it has been well documented that they have espoused various forms of hate," he urged staff to stay respectful and empathetic.
But some local political leaders have expressed support for the protest.
Dean Allison, MPP for Niagara West, added his signature to a statement from Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston MPP Randy Hillier in support of the protests in Ottawa.
LISTEN | The trucker convoy heads to Ottawa.
Harold Jonker, West Lincoln town councillor and owner of Jonker Trucking Ont., led a convoy down to Ottawa and spoke to CBC's Front Burner podcast. Some of his comments included false claims about COVID-19 vaccines.
West Lincoln Mayor Dave Bylsma praised his efforts on Facebook, writing he was "proud of our international celebrity and freedom advocate."
Redekop said while he understands not everyone shares the same opinion, the situation is frustrating.
"They're not fighting for the rights of the vast majority of people because we know the majority are compliant with the need to get vaccinated and follow public health guidelines," he said.
"The challenge for me is everybody has rights for sure, but we also have responsibilities … we're all in this boat together."