Ontario Premier Ford calls for end to 'illegal' Ambassador Bridge protest tying up 'vital trade corridor'

Protests against pandemic mandates that have blocked and prevented the free flow of traffic on the Ambassador Bridge, a key commercial link between Windsor, Ont., and Michigan, are well into their third day. And now the premier is calling for an end to the protests.

Windsor, Ont., police arrest driver, urge protesters not to endanger public safety

Protests at the entrance of the Ambassador Bridge, an international crossing connecting Windsor, Ont., to Detroit, continued for a third day Wednesday. (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC)

The latest developments:

  • Windsor police say a man has been arrested for dangerous driving.
  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford says "illegal occupation and blockade" must stop.
  • Windsor mayor, police chief ask upper levels of government for policing assistance. 
  • Windsor police say one U.S.-bound lane is open to limited traffic, moving slowly.
  • 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.
  • Blue Water bridge experiencing four-hour delay for commercial traffic. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is calling for an end to ongoing protests against pandemic mandates that have blocked and prevented the free flow of traffic on the Ambassador Bridge, a key commercial link between Windsor and Michigan.

In a statement Wednesday, Ford said the "illegal occupation and blockade happening in Ontario must stop."

The protest is now well into its third day. It continues as protests are spreading to other parts of Canada.

"The Ambassador Bridge is one of the most vital trade corridors in our country," Ford said. "The damage this is causing to our economy, to people's jobs and their livelihoods is totally unacceptable. We cannot let this continue."

Ford said he has spoken to Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens and Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, and told them the province is ready to provide "any support we can offer."

On Wednesday, protesters also disrupted traffic at Sarnia's Bluewater Bridge linked to the U.S.

"I remain confident that our police forces in Ontario, along with Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canada Border Services Agency, will take the appropriate steps to address the evolving situations in our cities and bring them to an end," Ford said.

On Wednesday evening, Windsor police said a man has been arrested for driving "in a manner that is dangerous to public safety.

"We urge everyone involved in the protest not to endanger members of the public or engage in illegal activities. Public safety remains our priority," the police service said on Twitter at around 8 p.m.

No further details about the arrest were immediately available. Several trucks were seen driving over the median on Huron Church Road Wednesday evening — the main artery feeding traffic to the international crossing — and a police cruiser was briefly surrounded by protesters.

Earlier on Wednesday, Dilkens said about 50 to 75 vehicles and about 100 protesters were lining Huron Church Road.

Windsor police have maintained one side-street entrance, allowing some traffic onto the bridge from Wyandotte Street. Traffic is blocked for those exiting the bridge and entering Canada from Michigan. 

'Our priority is public safety,' police chief says

During a policing update Wednesday, Dilkens and police Chief Pam Mizuno said officers are working with protesters with the goal of opening the road to the bridge. 

"Our priority is public safety and keeping the peace in the area, and the actions we take will prioritize that," said Mizuno.

"We will look at the actions of the demonstrators and we will act accordingly."

Windsor police are requesting the addition of 100 officers, more vehicles and intelligence support from the province and the federal government. Dilkens and Mizuno said they are sending the official request Wednesday. 

While four tickets have been issued to protesters in Windsor, Mizuno and Dilkens said it would be hard for police to do more. 

"You have a number of people who are on the ground here in the protest group that have outwardly stated that this cause is so passionate for them, they feel such a passion for this particular cause, that they're willing to die for it," he said.

"I think one can appreciate that if you have people that hold that sentiment, the situation can escalate to become very dangerous for police and those members of the public in very short order."

WATCH | Windsor mayor says officials don't want to escalate tensions with protesters

Windsor, Ont. mayor says protesters are willing to die for their cause

2 years ago
Duration 2:27
Mayor Drew Dilkens said when it comes to policing protesters at Windsor, Ont.'s international border crossing, officials must be careful not to escalate the situation.

"The dialogue between the officers and the protesters on the scene has been for the most part cordial," Jason Bellaire, deputy chief of operations for Windsor police, told CBC News on Wednesday. 

"The difficulty is in a democratic society is people have the right to protest and we respect that public protest."

Bellaire said that if what they're asking for is accepted by upper levels of government, additional officers would be used to help relieve ones currently on duty. Intelligence support, said Bellaire, could help police identify individuals who are protesting in Windsor from elsewhere. 

"Aggressive police action can lead to violence on both sides," he said. "We need to be careful not to escalate it and it's a diplomacy based strategy."

Dilkens said officials want to find a way to allow demonstrators to express themselves while keeping some traffic flowing across the border.

If a resolution is not found, Dilkens said, further action will have to be taken, but he wouldn't give any further details.

"What are we? Ten days or two weeks into the shutdown in Ottawa? That cannot happen in Windsor-Essex at the Ambassador Bridge," he said Tuesday. 

"This is too vital of a trade corridor for our nation, for our province and for our entire region, that other action will have to be taken that involves the Windsor police, provincial support and federal resources as well."

Ontario Provincial Police and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) continue to direct cross-border travellers to use the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, and commercial traffic to the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia, nearly a two-hour drive away.

There are massive delays at the Blue Water Bridge, as truck traffic is diverted there. The wait time for commercial traffic entering Canada is four hours and 45 minutes, as of 8 p.m. Wednesday. 

A section of Highway 402 leading to Sarnia's bridge is also blocked by protesters, say OPP. 

Truckers, residents fed up with blocked road

On Tuesday, some trucks were backed up at least four kilometres away from the bridge entrance in Windsor. 

Last in line was Canadian truck driver Darek Babich, hauling auto parts to the U.S.

"I'm making money when my wheels are rolling, not when I'm standing. Nobody pays me, right?" he said to CBC News, adding he just wants to do his job. 

U.S. truck driver Evelyn Pereira was trying to head back to the U.S. with her partner after bringing a haul to Canada. She said she doesn't support the protest. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Evelyn Pereira, a U.S. trucker who was also caught in line heading back to the U.S., told CBC News she does not support the protest and that it's hindering the delivery of essential goods and services. 

"Well we have to go and have all our shots in order to come into Ontario. We did that, we did everything required to be here. What I don't understand quite frankly, is why is there a problem with them doing the same thing coming back?" she said. 

"Why can't Canadians do exactly the same thing? What you're going to just bring diseases into the United States? I don't believe in this, I totally don't believe in this."

Businesses along the blocked route have also been feeling a pinch because of the blockage and slowdowns along the road for the last two days. 

"It's inconvenient because of the truck, too much long traffic and some people, they want to get here, but too long. They pass and they go to other shop," said Jennifer Lam, owner of Star Nails.

Police at the Ambassador Bridge protest in Windsor are asking demonstrators to maintain an open dialogue with officers. (Elvis Nouemsi Njiké/CBC)

Other residents are complaining about the noise. 

"We get it. We understand, but it's time to go, move forward. I'm just tired," said Maria Lambert, who lives a block away from Huron Church Road. 

"My dog can't even go outside. Haven't slept. I can't even cross the street. That's not fair to the people who live around here."