Ontario court hearing for injunction to end blockade at Windsor's Ambassador Bridge now underway

Protesters blocking traffic at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., have agreed to open one lane that exits the bridge into Canada from the U.S., CBC News has learned. An Ontario court hearing for an injunction to end the blockage is underway. 

Protesters rallying against COVID-19 mandates have blocked crossing since Monday

Protesters blocking traffic to Windsor, Ont.'s Ambassador Bridge agreed to clear one lane Friday, allowing some flow of traffic exiting the bridge into Canada. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The latest developments:

  • Protesters allow one traffic lane heading into Windsor to open at Ambassador Bridge. 
  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford declares state of emergency due to protests.
  • Ontario court hearing submissions on injunction attempt by auto groups, Windsor against bridge protesters.
  • Protesters block only street leading to side entrance of 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: OPP.

The protesters blocking traffic at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., have agreed to open one lane of traffic that exits the bridge into Canada from the U.S., CBC News has learned. 

However, Windsor police said in a tweet the area remains blocked as negotiations are ongoing. 

Protesters began to slowly move vehicles out of one of the exiting lanes, hours before an Ontario court was preparing to hear an injunction seeking to end the five-day protest at the international crossing and just before Premier Doug Ford declared a provincial state of emergency

The injunction — put forward by auto-industry leaders and backed by the City of Windsor — began at noon ET and is being heard by Ontario Superior Court Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz. 

On Thursday, Morawetz had issued directives to the city to ensure the injunction was seen by organizers of the protest, telling the city to provide a link where motion materials can be downloaded and viewed, and to issue a news release outlining where the injunction can be heard

The Ambassador Bridge, which links Windsor to Detroit, is a key trade route between Canada and the U.S., with about $400 million in commercial goods crossing each day. 

The key artery feeding the bridge on the Windsor side — Huron Church Road — has been blocked since Monday afternoon by protesters with a variety of concerns, including demands to lift pandemic restrictions.

WATCH | Protesters agree to open one lane of traffic exiting the Ambassador Bridge: 

Protesters in Windsor, Ont. allow one lane of traffic to flow from Ambassador Bridge

2 years ago
Duration 0:33
The international border crossing has been blocked since Monday. Early Friday, protesters agreed to allow one lane of traffic to open, allowing traffic to enter Canada from the bridge.

The Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association and Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association are the main applicants on the injunction, due to the industry's reliance on the bridge for the exchange of vehicles and parts.

Automakers have been scaling back production on both sides of the border this week due to the protests. 

Ford declared the state of emergency as similar protests continue in Ottawa and along Highway 402, heading to the Blue Water Bridge international crossing in Sarnia, Ont. 

The premier 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. 

Protesters started to clear the way for one lane of traffic Friday morning. (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC)

"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 licenses of anyone who doesn't comply with these orders."

The White House said U.S. officials had multiple conversations on Thursday with their Canadian counterparts, offering to help the Trudeau government bring an end to the blockade.

"[They] have been engaged around the clock to bring this to a swift end," the White House said in response to questions from CBC News.

Protest a 'national crisis,' says mayor

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens is calling the protest an "national crisis" due to the economic impact on both Canada and the U.S.

Speaking with CBC News on Friday, the mayor said more police and RCMP are expected to arrive in Windsor.

"The goal is the preservation of life, I don't want anyone to die over this … at the end of the day we need to find a way to move them peacefully," Dilkens said. 

"So there's lots of resources coming, and the goal and objective here is to have their protesters leave voluntarily … we do not want anyone to get hurt.... But if they refuse to leave, steps will have to be taken to remove them."

A photo of the Ambassador Bridge, connecting Windsor to Detroit, is shown on Thursday with no traffic on it. (Submitted by Andy Breschuk)

The mayor said that if an injunction is granted and police move in, there may be "prospect for arrest."

Dilkens said he worried about tensions rising further, citing an altercation that took place between protesters and police trying to move a car blocking Assumption College Catholic High School — a school in the heart of the protest area. He said a "group with tire irons swarmed the police," who were ultimately able to de-escalate that situation.

"People on the ground here are speaking to media, saying they're willing to fight to the death for the reasons why they're here. And the irony is they're a leaderless group," said Dilkens. 

Schools go online over protest concerns 

Three Windsor schools moved to online learning on Friday over concerns that the protest may disrupt traffic.

The change comes after consultation with the Windsor Police Service, which said protesters may be "increasing their presence" around the schools, the local English Catholic board said in a letter to the school communities.

The head of the Windsor-Essex Children's Aid Society took to Twitter Thursday, asking protesters to leave children out of the demonstration. 

"Respectfully, please leave your children at home should you choose to participate in the protest at the border. As tensions mount, the threat of disorder is increasing. You do not want your children exposed to this, or to risk their safety," wrote Derrick Drouillard. 

Referring to a photo circulating on social media Thursday, Windsor's mayor also showed concern about the potential of children being brought to the protest. 

"The fact that I see a picture yesterday where [protesters] brought what looks like a bus of kids to hold hands across Huron Church Road — even though it was blocked — holy moly, I question the sanity in a decision like that," he said. 

Dilkens said that he hopes not to have a scene similar to what's been happening in Ottawa, where large numbers of children at tense protests are making it difficult for police to navigate the situation. 

"Police are smart. Police are doing all they can. They have lots of intelligence, lots of resources."