Ontario judge extends order clearing Ambassador Bridge as Windsor fears protester return

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

An Ontario judge extended an injunction order Friday that authorizes police to arrest protesters and remove vehicles blocking the Ambassador Bridge and the roads leading up to it. 

The judge also added new elements to the order, specifying that protesters can’t threaten or harass city employees enforcing local laws or encouraging others to break the law. 

The original order, issued last Friday, expires after 10 days. Police cleared the bridge of protesters Sunday night and there was only a 20-minute wait time for commercial traffic to enter the country across the bridge Friday, according to the Canada Border Services Agency

But Jennifer King, attorney for the city of Windsor, argued Friday during the hearing before Ontario Superior Court Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz that "life has not returned to normal in Windsor or on Huron Church Road."

More: Canadian police start arresting protesters in Ottawa

She said there is "a real and present threat" that protesters will return to Windsor and resume a blockade of the bridge. Police have been monitoring social media groups supporting the trucker protests and are concerned that people may return to resume the blockage once the injunction expires Monday night. 

"This is a working class district where residents have endured not only the nuisances and business disruptions caused by the protest, but also traffic and public transit disruptions that have isolated them from the rest of the city," King said. "These impacts continue as the city and the police continue to protect the bridge from a further blockade."

Attorneys on the side of the protesters argued an extension of the injunction isn't necessary because the bridge is no longer blocked. 

The social media posts monitored by the police are "speculative," argued attorney James Kitchen, and aren't enough to infer that another blockade is coming. 

Continuing the order would only "create a chilling effect on the lawful exercise of free expression or free assembly, or embolden the police to overreach and violate those rights," he said.

Morawetz said a final version of the order would be filed later Friday and reasons for the decision by Tuesday.

Canadian police removed protesters from the bridge Sunday night after they spent nearly a week camped out near the critical U.S.-Canada border crossing. 

Protesters were challenging a Canadian policy requiring truckers crossing the border to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and other pandemic-related restrictions. It grew out of a blockade in Ottawa, the nation's capital, where protests continued through Friday morning. 

The Ambassador Bridge blockage drew attention of both country's top leaders, concerned with avoiding an international economic crisis. Experts estimate 25% of all trade between the U.S. and Canada flows through the crossing. 

Around 10,000 commercial vehicles cross the bridge every day with $325 million of goods, the Michigan Treasury Department estimated. Around $50 million of that comes from auto parts. The blockade caused major economic strain for automakers and other manufacturers, which were already struggling with supply chain woes.

Auto production was impacted throughout the week despite the bridge's reopening as automakers scrambled to secure supplies needed to resume regular production. 

rbeggin@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @rbeggin