'Freedom Convoy' protests disrupt another U.S.-Canada border crossing as more arrests are made

Vehicles block the route leading from the Ambassador Bridge, linking Detroit and Windsor, as truckers and their supporters continue to protest against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine mandates, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada February 8, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio (Carlos Osorio / reuters)
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A second U.S.-Canada land crossing was disrupted by protesters from the self-described "Freedom Convoy" demonstrating against coronavirus restrictions including vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers, further paralyzing crucial trade routes connecting the United States and its northern neighbor.

Both north- and southbound lanes at the Coutts border crossing, which links Canada's Alberta with Montana, were shut down by protesters, the provincial Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Tuesday.

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The blockage came as the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest international crossing in North America, linking Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit, was temporarily closed on the same day for passengers and commercial traffic, though local police said "limited traffic" was being allowed into the United States late Tuesday.

The protests, which began in late January against vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers, have snowballed into a broader movement against Canada's pandemic-related measures and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of big-rig truckers and their supporters have jammed key roads, where some protesters defaced national monuments and waved flags featuring swastikas while calling on Trudeau to resign.

Related video: Protests of mandates, restrictions pop up around the world

In the capital of Ottawa, where the mayor declared a state of emergency over the weekend, there have been 23 arrests on charges including resisting and flight from police and other "mischief" relating to the transportation of gas. About 80 criminal investigations have been launched. More than 1,300 tickets have been issued by officers since demonstrations began, police there said Tuesday, including for fireworks, excessive noise, a lack of insurance and red-light violations.

The obstruction of border crossings - which are considered critical infrastructure - has sparked major pushback from Canadian police and officials on all sides of the political spectrum.

Alberta's premier, Jason Kenney, leader of the right-leaning United Conservative Party, has been critical of vaccine mandates - but stressed the economic significance of keeping the Coutts crossing clear because it is the primary port for billions of dollars in exports passing from Alberta to the U.S.

Alberta's acting justice minister, Sonya Savage, said the blockade at the Coutts crossing was "illegal," according to a statement from her office, and that participants could face criminal charges. "They need to recognize that this protest is no longer peaceful and is causing hardship to thousands of law-abiding Albertans," Savage said Tuesday.

Such blockades could spark temporary plant closures and layoffs if companies can't transport their products - even if interruptions last just one or two days, experts say. Each day, $300 million in car and truck parts, agricultural products, steel and other raw materials flows across the Ambassador Bridge, Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association in Toronto, told The Washington Post. The bridge also connects families, friends and essential workers, including Canadian nurses who work in Detroit-area hospitals.

An estimated 150 to 200 vehicles and roughly 200 people were involved in blocking the 1.6-mile Ambassador Bridge.

While anti-government protesters have choked up the Coutts crossing intermittently in recent days, the latest blockade came as Alberta authorities announced plans to roll back some of the province's coronavirus rules.

Kenney wrote on Twitter that people now can live safely with the coronavirus "without the need for damaging government interventions," saying the worst of the omicron-driven surge is over. The Alberta leader, whose constituents skew conservative compared to the rest of the country, has taken aim at Trudeau's liberal policies in the past.

Starting Wednesday, businesses need not ask for proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test result, and gatherings of fewer than 500 people will be allowed without restrictions, Kenney announced. Students will no longer be required to wear masks in schools beginning next week.

Kenney, who had loosened restrictions and promised to bring "the best summer ever," apologized in September after coronavirus cases had surged, leaving hospitals overwhelmed.

Anti-vaccine mandate protesters have gathered at the Coutts crossing since late January and bucked calls from Alberta authorities to leave. The rally turned violent at one point last week, when protesters tried to run RCMP officers over with a car, Kenney said during a news conference last week.

At the time, the provincial head called this behavior "totally unacceptable" but no known arrests were made.

Trudeau on Monday condemned those attempting to "blockade our economy, our democracy" and instructed protesters to "go home."

In Ottawa, deputy police chief Steve Bell told reporters, "Our message to the demonstrators remains the same: Don't come. If you do, there will be consequences."

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