Federal government giving up to $6.9M to Windsor, Ont., for Ambassador Bridge blockade costs

The federal government is reimbursing Windsor for the millions the southwestern Ontario city spent on the Ambassador Bridge blockade earlier this year.

Response to February blockade by pandemic mandate protesters cost city estimated $6.8M

Protesters against pandemic restrictions maintain a blockade of the Ambassador Bridge border crossing, in Windsor, Ont., in this Feb. 11 file photo. On Thursday, Ottawa announced up to $6.9 million in federal support to the City of Windsor for costs incurred during the blockade. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The federal government is reimbursing Windsor for the millions the southwestern Ontario city spent on the Ambassador Bridge blockade earlier this year.

Ottawa is giving Windsor up to $6.9 million for the costs of the blockade, including policing that helped "restore public safety at the bridge and the areas surrounding it," Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Thursday. 

During an announcement in Windsor, Mendicino said the amount will depend on what the total cost is from the city, which will be talked through.

The government said the illegal blockade by people protesting COVID-19 pandemic mandates caused layoffs, plant closures and "[endangered] our international reputation." The money will make up the costs of managing and clearing the blockade.

Mendicino was joined Thursday by Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, Liberal MP for Windsor-Tecumseh Irek Kusmierczyk, NDP MP for Windsor West Brian Masse and other city officials. 

Access to the bridge was blocked the evening of Feb. 7 by truck drivers and others protesting the mandates.

A court injunction preventing anyone from blocking access to the bridge was granted on Feb. 11, and the blockade was cleared on Feb. 13.

The city has been asking for compensation since then. 

Three men stand at a podium at city hall.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, centre, announced federal support of up to $6.9-million to the City of Windsor on Thursday, Dec. 29, for expenses related to the Ambassador Bridge blockade that shuttered the international border crossing for a week. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

In April, the federal government committed a total of $2.5 million for businesses impacted by the blockade, with about 240 businesses eligible to apply for non-repayable funds of up to $10,000 each for costs not covered by any other federal programs. 

Blockade response cost $6.8M, city estimates

Earlier this year, the City of Windsor asked the federal and Ontario governments to reimburse $5.7 million spent on the response to the week-long blockade.

The figure was included in a letter from Dilkens to Chrystia Freeland, the deputy prime minister and federal finance minister, and Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy, on March 15.

"OPP and RCMP support was critical towards clearing the occupation in a peaceful and safe way, and the commitment that your governments displayed at that time helped bolster all those, myself included, who were dealing with the emergency situation unfolding in our community," Dilkens wrote. "I am asking you to reaffirm that commitment with the appropriative financial support the City of Windsor requires to cover the costs associated with clearing the illegal occupation."

In an interview with CBC News in March, Dilkens said about $5.1 million of the total was related to policing services.

WATCH: Marco Mendicino announces the money for Windsor

Announcement to cover Ambassador Bridge costs

5 months ago
Duration 0:48
Federal government says it'll cover Windsor's Ambassador Bridge blockade costs

However, according to documents released by the city as part of the Public Order Emergency Commission inquiry that took place following the blockade and convoy in Ottawa, that number ballooned to $6.8 million. 

"In November, Mayor Dilkens testified before the joint Senate/House of Commons Committee looking into the Emergency Act. At that time, he was asked by the committee to undertake to update the costs associated with the blockade," a spokesperson for the mayor said in an emailed statement to CBC News. 

That figure, the spokesperson said, does not include Windsor Police Service legal costs or the city's legal costs related to the commission set to end in February. 

Some protesters moved their vehicles at the request of police on Feb. 12. The blockade was cleared the next day. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A breakdown of the money spent that was presented by the city to the commission include policing costs of $2.7 million in overtime, about $816,000 in jersey barriers, $547,000 for meals and $425,000 in legal support. 

About $209,000 was paid to bring in the London Police Service for their support.

The total cost for policing services was estimated at $5,154,962.

The breakdown also shows the city paid:

  • $177,323 for public works operations.
  • $41,859 for Transit Windsor.
  • $36,282 for EMS.
  • $28,172 for fire and rescue.
  • $1,408,547 for legal fees.

Documents released as part of the public inquiry showed little financial oversight during the Ambassador Bridge blockade led to "panic buying" and an "environment of impulse purchases" by Windsor police. 

The report, titled "Freedom Convoy/Ambassador Bridge Blockade Debrief," on the Public Order Emergency Commission's website breaks down how the Windsor Police Service responded to the bridge blockade.

Part of the Windsor police debrief documents say "proper financial oversight" was not "sought" or used despite it being recommended several times throughout the blockade. Not having a financial services branch representative on hand led to unnecessary spending, the report says. 

Anti-mandate protesters are removed by police at a blockade of the Ambassador Bridge border crossing, in Windsor, Ont., on Feb. 12, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

When asked Thursday about that report, Mendicino said the government was in regular communication about the city's needs. 

"What today is about is a recognition of the fact that some of the costs were extraordinary, in other words, over and above what anybody could have reasonably foreseen at the time around what was needed to support law enforcement and that is principally because this was an unprecedented event," he said. 

Mendicino said that following the blockade, he sat down with the Windsor mayor and partners to map out the costs that led to Thursday's announcement.