Ambassador Bridge blockade response cost City of Windsor $5.7M
Southwestern Ontario city has sent letter to federal, provincial governments requesting reimbursement
The City of Windsor is asking the federal and Ontario governments to reimburse $5.7 million spent on the response to the week-long blockade at the Ambassador Bridge by pandemic mandate protesters.
The figure was included in a letter from Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens to Deputy Prime Minister and federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, 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."
Access to the Ambassador Bridge was blocked the evening of Feb. 7 by truck drivers and others protesting against mask 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.
In an interview with CBC News on Tuesday, Dilkens said about $5.1 million of the total was related to policing services.
A breakdown of costs obtained by CBC News shows the policing costs included $2.5 million in overtime, $1.3 million for jersey barriers, $540,000 each for meals and accommodations.
A further $130,000 was paid to bring in the London Police Service for support and $100,000 was spent on miscellaneous policing-related costs.
The breakdown also shows the city paid:
- $108,000 for public works wages and equipment;
- $40,000 for Transit Windsor, including wages, fuel, and lost revenue;
- $37,000 for Essex-Windsor EMS wages and supplies;
- $25,000 for Windsor Fire and Rescue Services;
- $250,000 in legal fees (Dilkens said these related to the injunction);
- $15,000 for Parks and Facilities costs, and
- $80,000 in community support.
"I believe that this is an exceptional event," Dilkens said. "We saw what happened in Ottawa and other places in Canada, and certainly the blockade that happened here, although it looked like it was just a one week event, that's when the heart of the protest was happening."
"But after that, the jersey barriers and all of the police officers that were here ... from across Canada to help maintain the integrity of that critical access road to the busiest border crossing between the United States and Canada, that cost money," he said. "There was no way around getting human resources here, boots on the ground, so to speak, to be able to provide the response required to make sure that the roadway could remain open, that trade could flow."
In his letter, Dilkens said it would be "unreasonable" to expect municipal taxpayers to pay for the response alone.
"It should be noted that this funding request is subject to change as final invoices and charges are tallied, specifically any additional reciprocal costs associated with hosting members of various law enforcement agencies from across the province," the letter stated.
The letter also notes that Windsor is already facing a deficit of $25 million related to the municipality's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That deficit, Dilkens stated, is "driven largely by the operating costs of the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel and Windsor International Airport, whose operations have been dramatically impacted by the ongoing public health crisis."
In an emailed statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for Bethlenfalvy said the Ontario Ministry of Finance received the letter Tuesday afternoon and is reviewing it.
In the interview Tuesday, Dilkens said he's seen "positive signs behind the scenes" when it comes to the possibility of government financial relief for businesses affected by the blockade and Huron Church Road closure.
And while no such funding has been announced yet, Dilkens is optimistic the funds will flow.
"There were a lot of businesses over a long period of time, not just a week, but many weeks, who were significantly impacted by the event, the protest event, but also by the erection of the jersey barriers, which the police and [the Ministry of Transportation] told us were absolutely required to maintain the integrity of the roadway," he said. "I don't expect Windsor businesses to settle to be second-class citizens."
"I expect that there will be a program forthcoming that provides some support for those businesses in and around Huron Church Road who are absolutely impacted by this blockade."
Dilkens noted the Ambassador Bridge protest wasn't the only one in Canada at the time — pandemic mandate protests were also taking place in Ottawa, and in Alberta — but addressing it was vital since the bridge is such an important trade corridor for Canada and the U.S.
"I can say that in the first 60 minutes of the border closure happening, Stellantis called us and said, 'What's going on at the Ambassador Bridge?'" Dilkens said. "So many people have looked and said, 'Well, how come police couldn't have known this? Wasn't there intelligence? Wasn't there information? Was this a failure on the side of police?'
"The reality is there had been rolling convoys through the city of Windsor for a number of weeks preceding the actual blockade, and police had no intelligence," he said. "They were moving for many days, many weeks, very peacefully down Huron Church Road, and although it was a bit of a disruption for the community and the trucking community, they were at least able to function to get across the bridge to and from the United States and Canada."
Dilkens said that in hindsight, the City of Windsor should have sent a written request to the provincial and federal governments earlier asking for resources to help address the blockade.
"We probably, instead of having verbal conversations, we maybe should have put the letter in writing immediately on day two," he said. "But we thought everything was sorted out on Day 2 and moving into Day 3."
However, the response was that Windsor needed to make the request in writing, which delayed the arrival of further resources by another day, Dilkens said.
"Once it was put in writing, we received more human resources down here than we had even asked for by a factor of almost three," he said. "That response was certainly appreciated. And it was certainly a trying time for our entire nation."