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Truckers protest: US presses Canada to use federal powers to ease disruption at border trade route


Washington: The Biden administration on Thursday urged Canada to use federal powers to ease the disruption at the US-Canada border caused by a protest against anti-coronavirus mandates that has blocked a vital US-Canada trade route, a White House official said. “(US Homeland Security) Secretary (Alejandro) Mayorkas and (Transportation Secretary Pete) Buttigieg each spoke with their Canadian counterparts, urging them to use Federal powers to resolve this situation at our joint border,” the official said in a statement.

The Biden administration is mainly focused on ending the blockage at the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, as well as at other ports of entry, the official said. The bridge is one of North America`s busiest border crossings and a supply route for Detroit`s carmakers.

Canadian truckers started the protests as a “Freedom Convoy” occupying the capital Ottawa in opposition to a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers mirrored by the U.S. government. They began blocking the Ambassador Bridge on Monday and have since shut two smaller border crossings.

The U.S. Homeland Security Department is adding staff to its command post at the National Football League`s Super Bowl in Los Angeles in response to reports of a convoy that could cause disruptions at Sunday`s game, the official, who provided the statement on condition of anonymity, said.

The department is also aware of reports of a convoy event in Washington, D.C., in early March and “is taking all necessary steps” to ensure it doesn`t disrupt transportation or the federal government, according to the official.

“At this time, we have no indication that individuals involved are engaged in anything other than First Amendment-protected activity,” the official said.

Canada-US border city seeks court order to remove protesters

A Canadian Mayor said on Thursday his city was seeking a court order to remove anti-coronavirus mandate protesters who have blocked a vital U.S.-Canada trade route and forced automakers in both countries to reduce operations. The closure of the Ambassador Bridge, one of North America`s busiest border crossings and a supply route for Detroit`s carmakers, has U.S. and Canadian officials scrambling to find alternate routes to limit any economic damage.

Canadian truckers started the protests as a “Freedom Convoy” occupying the capital Ottawa, opposing a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers mirrored by the US government. They began blocking the Ambassador Bridge on Monday and have since shut two smaller border crossings.

Canadian federal ministers have called the blockade illegal and asked protesters to return home. Police near the Ambassador Bridge have begun receiving additional manpower, Drew Dilkens, mayor of Windsor, Ontario, which borders Detroit, told CNN. “(If) the protesters don`t leave, there will have to be a path forward. If that means physically removing them, that means physically removing them, and we`re prepared to do that,” he said.

Dilkens later said Windsor was seeking an injunction from Ontario Superior Court to have the protesters removed, adding he was striving to resolve the issue peacefully. “(While) it may be gratifying for someone to see the forced removal of the demonstrators, such action may inflame the situation and certainly cause more folks to come here and add to the protest, and we don`t want to risk additional conflict,” Dilkens said.

With traffic at times shut in both directions, General Motors Co and Chrysler-parent Stellantis said on Thursday they had to cancel or reduce shifts because of parts shortages, tacking on to earlier cuts announced by Ford Motor Co and Toyota Motor Corp.

Toyota said it was suspending production through Saturday at its plants in Ontario and Kentucky, affecting manufacturing of the Camry, RAV4 and other popular models. Ford is looking at flying in some auto parts to a plant in Windsor that produces engines for popular models, a union official said.
The Ambassador Bridge was completely shut down in both directions on Thursday at 3:15 p.m. EST (2015 GMT), according to a Reuters witness.

DIVERTING CARGO

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was working with municipal leaders to do what was necessary to end the bridge blockade. The shutdown has hurt “regular Canadians whether it`s grocery store prices, whether it`s jobs lost or suspended, whether it`s supply chains disrupted. This is hurting communities across the country,” Trudeau told reporters.

An Ontario court on Thursday froze funds donated to anti-vaccine protesters through the app GiveSendGo. The convoy group had raised more than $8 million as of late Thursday afternoon, the Boston-based company said.

Protesters began gathering with their vehicles in Ottawa nearly two weeks ago and have occupied the main downtown street that runs by parliament, the Bank of Canada and the prime minister`s office.

Ottawa police said 25 people had been arrested on criminal charges.”Day by day we are removing trucks” and stopping people from transporting fuel, Police Chief Peter Sloly said.

Some protests inspired by the Canadian truckers and their supporters have taken place in Australia, New Zealand and France as the highly infectious Omicron variant of coronavirus begins to ease in some places.

White House economic adviser Brian Deese told MSNBC US President Joe Biden`s administration was “working in real time to divert cargo – that`s an imperfect solution – either by rail or by other bridges or by water”. Deese said that while Washington supports legitimate, peaceful protests, “taking steps like this that do nothing but hurt the economy, hurt families who are just trying to make a living … really make no sense.”

More than two-thirds of the $511 billion in goods traded annually between Canada and the United States is transported by road. The Detroit International Bridge Company, which owns the Ambassador Bridge, urged Canada to end the protest by repealing the vaccine mandate or remove the vehicles so trade can resume.

A third option was to do “nothing and hope this ends on its own: an option that will most likely prolong the blockade, further crippling our economy and putting more jobs at risk,” the company`s chairman, Matt Moroun, said in a statement.

Protesters blocked a second crossing in Alberta province late on Tuesday, and a third crossing between Manitoba province and North Dakota on Thursday.

Seeking to show support for the Canadian protesters, some U.S. truckers said they will send two convoys this weekend to a fourth border crossing that connects Buffalo, New York, and Fort Erie, Ontario. “They will bring supplies to truckers and supporters to help them peacefully assemble in celebration of freedom,” the Convoy to Save America said in a statement.

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