Mon. May 16th, 2022
COVID-19 protests threaten border trade between Canada, US

OTTAWA — Canadian lawmakers express increasing concern Tuesday about the economic impact of disruptive demonstrations after the busy border crossing between Canada and the U.S. was partially blocked by truckers protesting vaccination mandates and other COVID-19 restraints.

The blockade at the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, prevented traffic from entering Canada while some U.S.-bound traffic was still moving, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said, calling the bridge “one of the most important border crossings in the world.” It handles 25% of all trade between Canada, the United States.

Omar Alghabra (Canadian Transport Minister) said that such blocks will have serious consequences on the economy as well as supply chains. “I’ve already heard from automakers and food grocers. “This is a serious reason for concern,” he stated in Ottawa, the capital.

Added Mendicino: “Most Canadians understand there is a difference between being tired and fatigued with the pandemic and crossing into some other universe.”

Speaking in an emergency debate late Monday in Parliament, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the protesters are “trying to blockade our economy, our democracy.”

Despite delays at the bridge, auto parts and other goods continued to flow across the border on Tuesday evening. However, trucks had to travel 70 miles north towards the Blue Water Bridge that connects Sarnia, Ontario to Port Huron in Michigan. The bridge authorities reported that trucks had to travel almost three hours longer to cross the bridge. The trip will take five hours more than usual.

FlavioVolpe, president of Canadian Auto Parts Manufacturers Association, stated that the protesters are not allowed to park vehicles on the roads. He asked how many protesters were truckers since large logistics companies and trucker associations have lifted the blockades.

“It is really a collection of kind of anti-government provocateurs,” he said.

Volpe stated that the protests could also affect supplies of fresh produce, livestock, and other food.

A delay of even five hours can cause production interruptions as factories run low on part supplies, which already weaken the supply chain. Jeff Schuster is president of LMC Automotive Consulting in Troy, Michigan.

“Everything is so ‘just-in-time’ these days,” he said. “We’re still dealing with parts shortages in general and supply chain issues. This is just another wrench in the industry that we’re dealing with right now.”

Protesters also closed an important U.S.-Canada border crossing, in Coutts Alberta.

The Freedom Truck Convoy is coordinating daily demonstrations in Ottawa. Demonstrators have used hundreds upon hundreds of parked trucks to paralyze areas of Ottawa for more than ten days. Protesters say they will not leave the capital until vaccine restrictions and COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

Protest organizers have been calling for weeks for the removal of Trudeau’s government, although most of the restrictive measures were put in place by provincial governments.

On Tuesday, the organizers withdrew an unlawful demand that the nation’s governor general, the representative of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, force federal and provincial governments to lift all COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccine mandates. They now say they support Canada’s constitution and the democratic process.

François Laporte, the president of Teamsters Canada, which represents over 55,000 drivers, including 15,000 long-haul truckers, said the protests do not represent the industry in which 90% of drivers are vaccinated.

The Freedom Convoy “and the despicable display of hate led by the political Right and shamefully encouraged by elected conservative politicians does not reflect the values of Teamsters Canada, nor the vast majority of our members,” Laporte said in a statement.

Canada’s largest trucking company is virtually untouched by the vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border, said Alain Bédard, chairman and CEO of TFI International Inc.

“Vaccination at TFI is not an issue at all,” he said. Canada is the home of the few unvaccinated drivers in the company.

People who live in Ottawa and the surrounding areas, such as the neighborhoods around Parliament Hill, where the federal government is located, have been angered by the protests.

Dave Weatherall, a federal civil servant, lives near the truckers’ prime staging area in a city-owned parking lot outside of the downtown core. “They’re using the lot to terrorize people,” he said.

“It’s the first time since having kids that I’ve seriously wondered about the world we brought them into. I always figured they could handle most things the world will throw at them, but this feels different,” he added.

Ottawa’s city manager said all tow-truck companies on contract with the city have refused to haul away the big rigs.

Joel Lightbound, a lawmaker for Trudeau’s Liberal Party, rebuked his leader Tuesday for dividing Canadians and said his government needs to create a road map for when coronavirus measures should be lifted.

“It is time we stopped dividing people, to stop pitting one part of the population against each other,” Lightbound said.

Trudeau stated that everyone is tired COVID-19 and that the restrictions won’t last forever. He also noted that Canada has the highest level of vaccinations in the world.

“This government has been focused every step of the way on following the best science, the best public health advice, to keep as many people as safe as possible. Frankly, it’s worked,” Trudeau said Tuesday.

Pandemic restrictions in Canada have been much stricter than those in the U.S. but Canadians have generally supported these measures. Canada’s death rate is one third that of its neighbor.

The Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Quebec, Alberta, Alberta, Prince Edward Island, and Prince Edward Island have announced plans to lift COVID-19 restrictions. Alberta removed its vaccine passport almost immediately. The premier of Alberta stated that the vaccine passport could be removed by March 31st.

Quebec’s plan doesn’t include an end to mask mandates or the vaccine passport system.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault said the demonstrators who descended on Quebec City last weekend calling for an end to health measures didn’t weigh on the government’s decision to offer Quebecers a reopening plan.

“Now, if they (demonstrators) want to take credit for this, and then they don’t come back in two weeks, I won’t object to that,″ Legault said.

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Gillies reported in Toronto. This report was also contributed by Tom Krisher (Associated Press Writer in Detroit).

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