Auto groups, City of Windsor seek injunction to end Ambassador Bridge blockade of Ontario-U.S. traffic

Auto-industry groups, backed by the City of Windsor, Ont., are seeking an injunction to end a blockade by protesters at the Ambassador Bridge that has been disrupting traffic on the key U.S.-Canada trade route since Monday. An Ontario judge is expected to hear the injunction application on Friday.

Ontario Superior Court to hear submissions on injunction application on Friday

A blockade in front of Windsor, Ont.'s Ambassador Bridge, which links the city to Michigan, has entered a fourth day. (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC)

The latest developments:

  • Ontario Superior Court to hear submissions on injunction application on Friday.
  • Auto groups, City of Windsor seek injunction against Ambassador Bridge protesters
  • Federal government sending more RCMP to Windsor, says public safety minister.
  • Protesters block only street leading to side entrance to Ambassador Bridge. 
  • CBSA says bridge "temporarily closed," diverts commercial traffic to Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia. 
  • Protesters block portion of Highway 402 heading toward Blue Water Bridge, say OPP.

Auto-industry groups, backed by the City of Windsor, Ont., are seeking an injunction to end a blockade by protesters at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge that has been disrupting traffic on the major U.S.-Canada trade route since Monday.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens told a news briefing on Thursday that the city "will work with police to enforce that injunction" if granted.

"The individuals on site are trespassing on municipal roads and if need be will be removed to allow for the safe and efficient movement of goods across the border," he said. 

Protests against vaccine and other pandemic mandates have been stepping up over the past week in various Canadian cities.

Dilkens said the main applicants for the injunction are the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association and Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association, along with the City of Windsor and Chamber of Commerce "as supportive interveners."  

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Ontario Superior Court Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz addressed the injunction application on Thursday but delayed hearing it until noon ET on Friday. 

Morawetz said he understands the matter is urgent, but he noted that the application is "serious in nature" and the defendants should be given the chance to make their case.

He also granted the City of Windsor intervener status in the application.

The city is a key player in the automotive industry, with manufacturers scaling back production on both sides of the border this week as the protests have hampered the delivery of parts and components.

Both Ford Motor Company and Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler, have manufacturing plants in the city, also home to many parts manufacturers. 

Protests a 'national crisis,' mayor says

Dilkens called the protests in Windsor a "national crisis" due to the economic impact of the closure, which he said is costing the economy $400 million in commercial goods and food each day. 

The mayor expressed frustration over the protesters, who he said have no clear leadership or asks. 

"There is a variety of issues that have been expressed ... but this has moved more into an anti-government protest. This has moved into people here today saying they're onsite protesting due to climate change," Dilkens said.

Protesters and their vehicles line Huron Church Road in Windsor on Thursday. (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC)

"So this has taken on a life of its own way above and beyond a trucker protest. This is why we can't just let this lawlessness happen."

Dilkens said the injunction will ultimately be a document given to police to enforce, but he hopes protesters will "see the light of day" and move on their own.

On Thursday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the federal government will deploy more RCMP officers to the region to help local law enforcement. 

"We'll continue to send resources as needed," he said.

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer added her voice to a growing call to end the blockade.

"My message is simple: reopen traffic on the bridge," she said in a media release on Thursday.  

"The blockade is having a significant impact on Michigan's working families who are just trying to do their jobs. Our communities and automotive, manufacturing, and agriculture businesses are feeling the effects. It's hitting paycheques and production lines. That is unacceptable."

Protesters stepped up efforts in stopping entry to the Ambassador Bridge. (Elvis Nouemsi Njiké/CBC)

The governor implored all levels of the Canadian government to "de-escalate this economic blockade."

On Thursday, protesters completely blocked off the only side-street entrance to the Ambassador Bridge.

During the first three days, Windsor police were able to keep that side street entrance to the bridge clear for the slow trickle of traffic.

However, overnight Wednesday and early Thursday morning, protesters moved to block an area of the street, forcing transport trucks and other traffic to a halt in the city's downtown core. The main artery to the bridge, Huron Church Road, has been blocked since Monday afternoon.

One truck driver told CBC News he has been stuck in city traffic for more than seven hours.

CBC News witnessed an increased presence of Ontario Provincial Police at the protest sites in Windsor on Thursday.

The Canada Border Services Agency said the Ambassador Bridge, an international border crossing that connects Windsor and Detroit, remained 'temporarily closed' on Thursday due to vaccine mandate protests. Commercial traffic was being directed to the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia, which is more than 100 km away. (CBC News)

Protester says dealings with police 'a standoff'

Protester Manbae Singh-Gall was in the first vehicle parked and blocking the road to a side entrance to the bridge on Thursday. He said protesters were able to block the street despite the heavy police presence. 

"It was a standoff, but we had grit and spirit, they have salaries," he said. "If they can run shifts, we can run shifts."

The west-end Windsor resident said he's been at the protests since Monday afternoon and his comrades are bringing more supplies. 

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"I want the right of choice. I don't mind the vaccine. I don't like them telling me," Singh-Gail said, adding he is not vaccinated, but only due to "laziness."

"My family lives in India. I haven't been in five years," he said, adding he couldn't visit for the last two years due to pandemic restrictions. 

When asked what protesters want, Singh-Gall said, "Negotiation, middle ground, listen to us and we'll listen to you. Wise words prevail when leaders meet on the trail."

There is no access into Canada coming from the U.S. via the Ambassador Bridge, which remains "temporarily closed," according to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

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Sarnia bridge traffic also snarled 

Officials continue to direct commercial vehicles to the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia, Ont., but a portion of Highway 402 en route to that international crossing has been blocked since Thursday by protesters with farming equipment and other vehicles.

Blue Water Bridge is experiencing major delays of up to three hours for commercial traffic.

At Parliament Hill on Thursday, Essex MP Chris Lewis called for action from the federal government.

"These protests and the consequences fall squarely on the prime minister's lap," Lewis, a Conservative, said. "After two weeks of dithering, the solution will not be simple.

"The prime minister must ... meet with all leaders on Parliament Hill to find solutions, to end the COVID mandates, end the blockades of our critical border infrastructure, and restore peace, order and good government."

Trudeau had left the House of Commons by the time Lewis spoke.

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, who visited Windsor on Thursday, was critical of Premier Doug Ford for using "weak language" in the face of protests in Windsor and Ottawa, where demonstrations have been going on for over two weeks. 

"I know Mayor Dilkens and everyone else involved is working hard to untangle this really tough situation, but there are measures — I'm a former transportation minister — you can't block a controlled access in Ontario, a highway in Ontario without there being repercussions. We need real leadership from Doug Ford right now," Del Duca told CBC News. 

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Del Duca said he'd meet with local residents and business owners, but not protesters. 

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and MPPs Lisa Gretzky (Windsor West), Taras Natyshak (Essex) and Percy Hatfield (Windsor—Tecumseh) have written to the premier, urging him to end the blockade. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ford spoke about the protest late Wednesday, sharing tweets following the discussion. 

"The blockades in Windsor and Ottawa are endangering jobs, impeding trade, threatening the economy, and obstructing our communities. They must stop. I spoke about that with [Premier Doug Ford] tonight — our teams will keep working to support Ontarians and get the situation under control," Trudeau tweeted.

"We will continue working together to support our police forces as they manage these situations. We both agreed this must come to an end," Ford said in his tweet. 

On Wednesday, Windsor police and Dilkens requested support from the province, including an additional 100 officers, vehicles and intelligence support.

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board also announced that three of its schools — Holy Names Catholic High School, Assumption College Catholic High School and Assumption College Catholic Middle School — will shift to online learning on Friday due to planned protests in the area.

The decision came after consultations with the Windsor Police Service. Social media posts indicate a student walkout to protest mask mandates is expected to take place Friday afternoon, and there is concern outside protesters may join in. The board expects the schools will return to in-person learning on Monday.

Transport trucks lined a downtown Windsor street late Wednesday night, blocking a road to a side entrance to the Ambassador Bridge. (Mike Evans/CBC)

With files from The Canadian Press