Ontario declares state of emergency in response to convoy protests
Province's government facing growing calls to bring an end to blockades
Ontario declared a state of emergency on Friday in response to convoy protests against public health measures meant to curb the spread of COVID-19, which have caused major disruptions in multiple areas of the province in recent weeks.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement Friday morning while protest blockades continue to shut down parts of Ottawa's city core and portions of Windsor's Ambassador Bridge.
Ford signed the state of emergency order late Friday. It now has to be ratified by cabinet within 72 hours and will be in effect for 14 days.
Meanwhile, more protests are expected at Queen's Park in downtown Toronto, forcing police to close off several roads in the surrounding area.
At a news conference Friday, Ford said he will convene cabinet and "urgently enact orders that will make crystal clear it is illegal and punishable to block and impede the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure.
"This will include protecting international border crossings, 400-series highways, airports, ports, bridges and railways. It will also include protecting the safe and essential movement of ambulatory and medical services, public transit, municipal and provincial roadways, as well as pedestrian walkways," Ford said.
"Fines for non-compliance will be severe, with a maximum penalty of $100,000 and up to a year imprisonment. We will also provide additional authority to consider taking away the personal and commercial licences of anyone who doesn't comply with these orders."
WATCH | Ontario premier gives warning to protesters:
Ford has faced criticism for not doing more to stop the so-called convoy protest in Ottawa, which is now set to enter its third weekend. The premier referred to the situation in Ottawa as a "siege" on Friday.
"It's an illegal occupation. This is no longer a protest," Ford said.
He has told the protesters, who are opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and public health measures brought in by governments to curb the spread of the virus, to end their blockades and go home. However, his government also declined a third invitation to participate in trilateral talks to deal with ongoing protests, sources told CBC News on Thursday.
Ford defended that decision Friday, saying that people "don't want another table of a bunch of politicians sitting there talking.
"People want to see action. And that's what we're taking," he said.
Provincial Opposition NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, however, slammed the province's inaction at a news conference Friday for what she called a "horrible insurrection" in Ontario.
"They basically waited until our economy was being damaged before they did anything," Horwath said.
So far, Ontario hasn't significantly altered its plan to ease public health measures — though Ford said Friday that the province is "on track to very soon remove almost all restrictions for businesses as a part of our reopening plan," and is working on a plan to "remove the vaccine passport system.
"This is great news and a sign of just how far we have come together in this fight," Ford said.
Pandemic indicators have been improving in Ontario in recent days. The province reported 1,829 hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 Friday, marking the second straight day that number has dipped below 2,000 since early January.
The premier also said Friday that he doesn't believe these protests are representative of the bulk of truckers in the province, which was the initial stated thrust of the protests.
"This is about a political statement. That's what this is about," Ford said.
"To the occupiers: please, go home."
Police deployed to Ambassador Bridge
Ford also took questions regarding a recent CTV News story, which showed the premier was snowmobiling Saturday in the Muskoka region, which is roughly 170 kilometres north of Toronto. At the same time, protests were still snarling the streets of Ottawa and Toronto.
"I was at the cottage. I went out on my snowmobile," Ford said. "I take calls to one o'clock in the morning. I get calls before six o'clock in the morning, and I will not stop until we get this taken care of. And I will continue to make sure we're engaged in every single area of our responsibility."
Horwath was critical of Ford's snowmobiling trip.
"I can only imagine the anger and the sense of betrayal that the people of Ottawa and folks in Windsor and all Ontarians and Canadians, frankly, are feeling with this premier," she said.
Meanwhile, policing resources are being deployed in Windsor to the area of the Ambassador Bridge, where protests against COVID-19 public health restrictions have been snarling cross-border traffic since Monday.
The protest has disrupted traffic along the crucial trucking route that connects Windsor and Detroit, prompting escalating concern over the impact on the auto industry, which has idled some plants, and Canada-U.S. trade overall.
The White House said in a statement Friday that U.S. officials have had "productive conversations with our Canadian counterparts over the last 24 hours to bring the blockade at the Ambassador Bridge and other ports of entry to a swift and peaceful end.
"We feel confident that that at the municipal, provincial and federal level, Canada appreciates the urgency required to take action," the statement reads.