Ambassador remains closed into Canada; backups grow at Blue Water Bridge

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — Traffic from the U.S. to Canada via the Ambassador Bridge remains blocked Wednesday afternoon, more than 36 hours after the bridge was completely closed due to a protest by Canadian truck drivers.

The Ambassador Bridge reopened to some U.S.-bound traffic early Tuesday morning and fully opened Tuesday afternoon, Windsor police said.

The protest against COVID-19 mandates and restrictions in Canada spread Monday across the Canadian border with the U.S., sparking traffic delays. The traffic-blocking convoy was the first sign demonstrations could affect the United States.

Many drivers opted for the Blue Water Bridge, which experienced backups because of the heavy traffic. Traffic cameras showed trucks backed up for miles. 

Webcams and wait times:Check these links for Ambassador Bridge, Bluewater Bridge, Detroit-Windsor Tunnel

Anti-vaccine mandate protesters block lanes of Huron Church Road in Windsor on Tuesday.

The lack of traffic at the Ambassador Bridge, touted as the nation's busiest international border crossing, sparked concern among transportation leaders about the impact amid COVID-led supply chain and staffing shortages on Michigan businesses relying on transported goods.

"Any delay or disruption in the supply chain creates problems, not just for agriculture but the state economy," said Chuck Lippstreu, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, which represents businesses that support farmers, early in the closure.

The Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, which represents the Detroit Three automakers, called for an end to the protest, citing its effect on the country's economy.

“Auto production relies on efficient supply chain logistics for delivery of parts, components and vehicles," the association said in a statement Tuesday. "Persistent delays at the Ambassador Bridge risk disrupting automotive production that employs tens of thousands of Canadians.”

The bridge's owner echoed those claims.

"We encourage the appropriate officials to take prompt action to alleviate the situation as quickly as possible in a manner that reflects mutual respect," Matt Moroun, chairman of the Detroit International Bridge Co., said Tuesday in a statement.

"International commerce needs to resume. The Ambassador Bridge and the Moroun family sympathize with truck drivers and those caught up in this blockade."

St. Clair County Sheriff Mat King said Tuesday that truckers who were unable to travel from the U.S. to Canada via the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit because of the protest headed to the Blue Water Bridge.

Protesters in demonstrations across Canada have said they'll stay until the mandates end.

The Canadian government said the delay for commercial traffic to cross between Sarnia and Port Huron was more than four hours at 6 a.m. 

The St. Clair County sheriff at midday Tuesday urged motorists to avoid eastbound Interstate 94 and eastbound Interstate 69 in the Port Huron area due to a traffic backup and use surfaces streets.

The protest follows rallies over opposition to COVID mandates in cities across Canada in a show of solidarity with a demonstration in Ottawa that has gone on for more than a week by the so-called Freedom Truck Convoy. The protests paralyzed the Canadian capital's business district and led the mayor to call for 2,000 extra police officers to quell the nightly demonstrations.

Several people involved in the protest Tuesday in Canada said the demonstrations had expanded from its original purpose, opposing mandates for cross-border truck drivers, and were there in opposition to all vaccine mandates, in addition to supporting truck drivers, the Windsor Star reported.

“I lost my job as a result of mandates, and I think you’ll find that there are a number of people here who have lost their job because of mandates,” Vicki Liberato told the Windsor Star.

She said she chose not to be vaccinated because she had family members she said were adversely affected by the vaccine.

“That’s the No. 1 reason this is all going on. People have just had enough of mandates.”

Protesters have said they will not leave until all mandates and restrictions are lifted. They also called for the removal of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, though it is responsible for few of the restrictive measures, most of which were put in place by provincial governments.

A rapidly growing list of Canadian provinces are moving to do just that. 

Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec and Prince Edward Island announced plans this week to roll back some or all measures, with Alberta, Canada's most conservative province, dropping its vaccine passport for places such as restaurants immediately and getting rid of masks at the end of the month, the Associated Press reported.

Alberta opposition leader Rachel Notley accused Alberta Premier Jason Kenney of allowing an “illegal blockade to dictate public health measures.”

Trudeau backed demonstrators' right to protest, he tweeted Monday night, but not to disrupt daily activity.

"Canadians have the right to protest, to disagree with their government, and to make their voices heard," he tweeted. "We’ll always protect that right. But let’s be clear: They don’t have the right to blockade our economy, or our democracy, or our fellow citizens’ daily lives. It has to stop."

Last month, Canada started to turn away unvaccinated U.S. truckers at the border. The United States has imposed the same requirement on truckers entering that country.

The first trucks in a convoy organized to protest the vaccination measures arrived in Ottawa on Jan. 28.

No traffic on the Ambassador Bridge as passage is closed on Tuesday, February 8, 2022.

Canadian government officials Bill Blair, president of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and minister of emergency preparedness, and Marco Mendicino,minister of public safety, on Tuesday addressed the issue during a virtual news conference.

Mendicino called the Ambassador Bridge "a vital artery for goods and services" and said "it is imperative that we keep traffic (on the bridge) moving."

Federal officials are working with local law enforcement to keep traffic flow moving, he said.

"There are good lines of communication across all levels of government and with all levels of law enforcement to bring about the fastest and most peaceful resolution to the conflict."