As It Happens·Q&A

Protesters blocking U.S. border in Windsor, Ont., 'will not be tolerated' for long: Mayor

If protesters continue to block traffic at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., it will have "a huge impact on the Canadian economy," says the city's mayor.

Demonstrators against pandemic restrictions have been at the bridge for 2 days

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens says blocking traffic at the U.S. border in Windsor, Ont., puts the Canadian economy in jeopardy. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Story Transcript

If protesters continue to block traffic at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., it will have "a huge impact on the Canadian economy," says the city's mayor.

Dozens of people protesting pandemic restrictions have gathered in vehicles near the bridge that connects Windsor to Michigan, one of the busiest U.S. border crossings in the country.

Windsor police said Tuesday that some U.S.-bound traffic is moving, but vehicles into Canada still can't get through.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, who is also the chair of the Windsor Police Services Board, says authorities are working on a non-violent solution to get traffic flowing again. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens guest host Peter Armstrong.

As you watched your city become the next site of these border protests yesterday and the sound of honking filled the air, what went through your mind?

I thought it was just a matter of time before the convoy would reach the city of Windsor, recognizing we're home to the busiest commercial border crossing between the United States and Canada, and a full one-third of trade between our two nations crosses right here.

Has the city or the police been able to approach the people at the front of this and say, "OK, what are your demands? How do we end this?"

Police have been working very diligently with a lot of the protesters to try and find a pathway that allows them to express themselves and continue to protest while recognizing that they're doing it at the foot of the busiest border crossing between the United States and Canada. 

WATCH | Protesters tell CBC News why they're halting traffic at the bridge: 

Protesters say they're 'fed up' with COVID-19 restrictions

1 year ago
Duration 1:03
Protesters tell CBC News they are fed up with COVID-19 restrictions and feel they have no option but to demonstrate for their freedoms.

Blocking this bridge means blocking workers and blocking the export and import of the stuff that they make. Are there actual cross-border truckers involved in this, as far as you can tell?

There are some truckers who are involved in the convoy, but … if you look at pictures … the vast majority of vehicles are not semi-trailers or semi-trucks that you would expect to see. They're pickup trucks and people flying, you know, flags with expletives against the prime minister and, you know, other sort of sayings. 

In [the Windsor Star] newspaper, there was one local resident who came from about 20 minutes outside of Windsor who said that this is a cause … she's willing to die for. And I think that that type of language is indicative of how some people feel about what they're doing out here.

That is the irrationality that police are trying to deal with in some cases.

Truckers and other protestors block traffic in both directions to Windsor's Ambassador Bridge linking Canada to Detroit on Tuesday. Police say they have been able keep one lane of U.S.-bound traffic open Monday and Tuesday. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

A lot of Windsor residents, people, cross that bridge daily to go to and come [back from] work. How many people in Windsor are not able to get to their jobs on the other side of the bridge?

In normal times, when there was no pandemic, we had about 6,000 people a day who lived in Windsor and crossed for work over to Michigan. The pandemic scaled that back considerably. But on our lowest day, we still see about 1,200 people who cross from Windsor into Detroit, most of whom work in health care.

We are the automotive capital of Canada, and so is Detroit on their side of the U.S. And the supply chains are so tightly integrated on the business side, on the human capital side, that people will often say that [when] a vehicle that rolls off the finish line at an assembly plant, the parts that went into the production of that vehicle have crossed the border on average of six times.

There are a lot of mouths that are fed, a lot of families that are fed because of smooth and efficient border crossings going into the United States and coming into Canada, which speaks to the urgent need to make sure that we get this border crossing open sooner rather than later.

WATCH | Protest blocking bridge 'cannot be allowed to continue,' says Windsor's mayor: 

Protest closing bridge 'cannot be allowed to continue,' Windsor mayor says

1 year ago
Duration 6:39
The Ambassador Bridge is Canada's busiest international border crossing, says Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, and the protest that is largely shutting it down cannot be allowed to last long as the bridge is a 'vital backbone to Canada's economy.'

There's protesters that have told the CBC that they have no plans to leave. What are your concerns for how this plays out over the next few days?

Many people in the public … are really frustrated by what they see and they want the city to take action. They want me to jump in there. They want the police to go in and bash heads together and just tow them and ticket them and pull them out of there. And I get that sentiment.

At the same time, we also have police officers that have families who've signed up for risky work, but we don't want to put them in a situation that is going to get them injured. We don't want to put the protesters in a situation where they're going to get injured, or members of the public. 

Police are working with the protesters to deal with situations they have on the ground that provide pathways to get lanes open to and from the Ambassador Bridge that would allow truck traffic to continue to flow, while respecting that we could set aside a lane or two for protests to continue to happen.

But a full closure, a hard stop at the border like is happening now, that is not going to be tolerated for very long. And I expect you're going to see some federal, provincial intervention, and we will certainly be out there on the municipal side with our police resources to support that.

I think a lot of people will hear that, but then they'll look at what's been happening in Ottawa and see that that's been going on for 11 days, and there's only really now just the beginnings of a plan to actually start getting that situation under control. What do you say to people who turn to you and say, "Mayor, do we have a plan? Are we in a position to actually clear this out?"

I would submit that the closure of a residential street or the street in front of Parliament Hill, as odd as that is, you know, it is the seat of government and Ottawa is used to protests like this. But it doesn't have the same magnitude of impact that the wholesale closure of the busiest border crossing between our two nations has.

I get that there are small businesses and others. I do not want to diminish what's happening in Ottawa by my comments. But I'm going to say that the impact of stopping $500 million a day of international trade that crosses the Ambassador Bridge will get noticed by a lot of leaders very, very quickly and will not be tolerated for very long because it is just too important to our national economy. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC Windsor. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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