Protesters who continue to block the U.S.-Canada border at the Ambassador Bridge and occupy parts of Ottawa as part of the Freedom Convoy could face heavy consequences including fines, jail time and the loss of commercial driver’s licenses, the premier of Ontario said on Friday as the Canadian province declared a state of emergency.
“Your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the right of hundreds of thousands of workers to earn their living,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said. “It does not outweigh our right to get food across our borders. Your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the rights of one million people in Ottawa to live peacefully, free of harassment and chaos in their own homes.”
Ford said his government will be taking steps to “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,” including the U.S.-Canada border as well as 400-series highways, where the bulk of the freight moves within the province.
Those who don’t comply could be fined up to CA$100,000 and face up to a year in prison, he said.
Ford declared the state of emergency amid growing pressure from multiple industries, including the auto sector, as well as Canada’s federal government and the White House.
The bridge’s closure has slowed the movement of freight as drivers reroute to other crossings, including the nearby Blue Water Bridge. Auto plants on both sides of the border have scaled back production because parts aren’t arriving quickly enough.
On Friday afternoon, a judge granted an injunction to remove protesters at the Ambassador Bridge following a petition by the city of Windsor and two auto industry groups. The injunction could pave the way for an action by police, which so far have stuck to negotiating with protesters.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also weighed in, saying the consequences for protesters who remain in Ottawa and at the U.S.-Canada border “are becoming more and more severe.”
“You don’t want to end up losing your license, end up with a criminal record, which will impact your job, your livelihood, even your ability to travel internationally, including to the U.S.,” he said.
Canadian and U.S. drivers alike are facing lengthy delays and extra time reaching alternate borders, including the Port Huron and Peace Bridge crossings.
“Drivers are kind of skeptical about leaving with loads, coming back through those [ports of entry] because of the wait times that they are seeing, so it’s definitely slowing down an already very inefficient and slow supply chain,” said Rob Piccioni, CEO of Montreal-based freight brokerage and trucking company Fuel Transport. “It’s already having an economic impact, a really huge impact on the flow of goods.”
Ed, an Ohio-based driver who did not give his last name, said he was frustrated because he has had to spend more time driving, without being paid more, because of the Ambassador Bridge closure.
“It is adding to my day, but we get paid by the run, not by the hour. So if it takes five hours or 10 hours, we still get the same amount,” he said from a truck stop near the Blue Water Bridge border crossing in Port Huron, Michigan.
The prolonged disruptions could also reduce the amount of U.S.-based cross-border trucking capacity, said Glenn Koepke, senior vice president for customer success at supply chain visibility provider FourKites.
“If the volume coming out of Canada changes because of the delays and disruption, what we may see is that American companies will only go to Canada unless there’s a guaranteed round trip, especially through the Michigan border crossing points,” Koepke said.
As of Friday, the Ambassador Bridge protest had several commercial trucks among roughly 100 other vehicles. Meanwhile, about 400 trucks remain in Ottawa.
On Thursday, Ottawa police said they had persuaded 25 truckers to leave voluntarily but are threatening to tow others who remain.
Erik Mueller, an owner-operator from Alberta, has been in Ottawa for almost two weeks and said he has no intention of leaving but wouldn’t resist the police. He said he won’t leave until all vaccine mandates are lifted and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau resigns.
“If somebody breaks the law and tries to seize my vehicle or arrest me, then I go to court,” he said. “I’m not afraid.”