Judge grants injunction aimed at ending Ambassador Bridge blockade in Windsor, Ont.
Law enforcement will collaborate and co-ordinate how to respond to ruling, Mayor Drew Dilkens says
An Ontario Superior Court judge has granted an injunction aimed at ending a blockade by protesters at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor that has tied up cross-border traffic since Monday.
Chief Justice Geoffrey B. Morawetz handed down the ruling Friday. It came into effect at 7 p.m. ET, as a large crowd was still present at the bridge.
Five hours after the deadline, some 100 protesters remained milling around the entrance to the bridge, waving Canadian flags.
The document, which was provided late Friday by the City of Windsor, states that anyone having notice of the order is prohibited from "impeding or blocking access to the Ambassador Bridge and indirect or direct approaching roadways and access points" for 10 days.
The injunction authorizes police or "designated agents" to remove any vehicles, personal property, equipment, structures, or other objects that impede or block access to the bridge, and approaching roadways.
It allows for the arrest and removal of anyone the police have "reasonable and probable grounds to believe is contravening, or has contravened, any provision" of the order, although they can be released if they agree to obey the order.
People are free to engage in peaceful protests that don't impede or block access to the bridge or approaching roadways, the order states.
I’m here at the bridge blockade minutes after the injunction kicked in.<br><br>No indication so far that protesters intend on leaving. <a href="https://t.co/QmQ32IEG64">pic.twitter.com/QmQ32IEG64</a>—@KatGeorgieva
The injunction comes as border cities, including Coutts, Alta., and Sarnia, Ont., have been dealing with protesters at international crossings for days. They've said their goal is to have governments lift vaccination and other mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ottawa protests that began about two weeks ago started a series of similar rallies across Canada.
Earlier Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a provincial state of emergency that could result in harsh penalties for protesters who cause major disruptions.
Windsor police warn of charges, arrests
In a statement issued after Friday's court proceeding, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said he was pleased the injunction was granted.
"At the same time, I'm disappointed that it had to come to this," he said.
WATCH | 'We are obviously very, very pleased' about injunction, mayor says:
Earlier Friday, Dilkens told CBC News that more police are expected to arrive in Windsor from outside of the community.
"The goal is the preservation of life, I don't want anyone to die over this," he said.
"The goal and objective here is to have the protesters leave voluntarily.… But if they refuse to leave, steps will have to be taken to remove them."
Friday evening, the Windsor Police Service said it wanted to make clear to demonstrators that "it is a criminal offence to obstruct, interrupt or interfere with the lawful use, enjoyment, or operation of property."
"The offence itself is known as mischief to property," the police service said in a statement. "The unlawful act of blocking streets at and near the Ambassador Bridge is resulting in people being denied the lawful use, enjoyment and operation of their property and causing businesses to close down."
Police are distributing these flyers to protesters in Windsor, warning them about the provincial state of emergency, the risk of fines of up to $100,000 or a year in jail <a href="https://t.co/pfHHYhaZ3Z">pic.twitter.com/pfHHYhaZ3Z</a>—@thomasdaigle
Police warned that anyone found to be committing that offence, or assisting others in doing so, may be arrested, and said "charges and/or convictions related to the unlawful activity associated with the demonstration may lead to denial in crossing the U.S.A. border."
Police were also distributing flyers to protesters in Windsor Friday about the provincial state of emergency and the potential for fines or jail time for those that violated the law.
WATCH | Ford tells protesters to go home after declaring state of emergency:
'Astronomical' economic impact
During the injunction hearing, court heard that since Monday, the blockade has allowed only a trickle of traffic across the bridge into the U.S. through a side-street entrance, which was also blocked overnight Wednesday and in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Mike Wills, a lawyer representing the auto groups that filed for the injunction and the City of Windsor, one of the interveners, said while one lane may have been opened by protesters, it "will not matter" because it may "be closed as quickly as it can be opened" due to the actions of those behind the blockade.
Wills told the court that the plaintiffs — the Global Automakers of Canada, Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association and Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association — represent dozens of Canadian car companies that are losing as much as $50 million per day due to blockade.
Their economic recovery is impossible due to the "astronomical" amount of money it's costing and "impractical" because protesters are not from one group or faction, said Wills.
"I only represent a small group being impacted by this blockade," he told the court.
"It can't be fixed — it's irreparable."
While some say demonstrations have been peaceful, and the plaintiffs acknowledged they have "been without violence, undertaken by sincere and honest individuals," Wills told the court that peacefulness is not a factor and there is "a strong case [protesters] have not been lawful."
Acknowledging the rights to freedom of expression, Wills said it is "not in their rights to block an international trade artery" and guaranteed freedoms "may not be exercised in a completely unfettered manner."
WATCH | Trudeau promises 'consequences' if protests continue:
Protesters argued bridge not completely blocked
Antoine d'Ailly, counsel for Citizens for Freedom, a non-profit representing Windsor individuals who support the blockade, argued access to the bridge wasn't completely blocked.
"Based on the photographs we've shown … at most it's the left two, perhaps three lanes of Huron Church Road [a main road to the bridge] that is being slowed or impeded by trucks that are unable to proceed any further, and the supporters on the road," he said.
"The submission here is that the protesters are in no way fully blocking access to the bridge, one way or the other. At best here, we're dealing with a partial impediment."
WATCH | Lawyer Jane Scholes explains the ruling:
The judge asked for an update on the bridge protests, which City of Windsor lawyer Jennifer King obtained from the Windsor Police Service.
King told court that, as of late Friday afternoon:
- The southbound bridge exit leading onto Huron Church Road was completely blocked by protesters, except for one lane that was negotiated to remain open for emergency vehicles to use responding to a call.
- Huron Church Road at Tecumseh Road to College Avenue was blocked, and the bridge could not be accessed.
- The bridge entrance on Wyandotte Street westbound was completely blocked by protesters.
- The bridge entrance eastbound on Wyandotte Street was open, but intermittently being blocked by protesters.
Windsor mayor wants to reopen bridge safely
After the ruling, Windsor's mayor said that local, regional and national law enforcement would co-ordinate how to respond to the injunction and reopen Ambassador Bridge.
"I remain hopeful for a peaceful and negotiated resolution to the current blockade," Dilkens said in a statement. "No operational details will be disclosed, to ensure the safety and security of all involved."
Dilkens also thanked the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, the representative plaintiff, as well as the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association, the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce and Ontario's attorney general for their support.
"Over the past few weeks, we have all been gripped by the protest activity occurring across Canada," he said. "As these demonstrations in Ottawa, Alberta and right here in Windsor have shown, there is a segment of our population who feel left behind as we have collectively fought this virus.
"To that end, as a nation, it is clear that we have a lot of healing to do, emerging from this public health nightmare."
A motion about whether to continue the order beyond 10 days is scheduled to be heard in Windsor court on Feb. 18.
With files from Reuters