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Ontario premier declares state of emergency in response to protests

February 11, 2022   by Allison Jones and Maan Alhmidi

(CP) Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency Friday in response to ongoing blockades in Ottawa and Windsor, Ont., warning of “severe” consequences for protesters who don’t leave.

Ford said he will enact orders making it “crystal clear” that it is illegal and punishable to block and impede the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure, including international border crossings, 400-series highways, airports, ports, bridges and railways.

Fines for non-compliance will be up to $100,000 and up to a year imprisonment.

The announcement comes as a protest against COVID-19 measures has immobilized Ottawa’s downtown core for nearly two weeks while another on the Windsor side of the Ambassador Bridge has blocked Canada-bound vehicles from using the key border crossing for days.

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The past two years have not been easy and frustrations have reached a boiling point for many Canadians, Ford said, but the illegal occupations must end.

“To those who have attempted to disrupt our way of life by targeting our lifeline for food, fuel and goods across our borders, to those trying to force a political agenda through disruption, intimidation and chaos, my message to you is this – your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the right of hundreds of thousands of workers to earn their living,” Ford said at a news conference.

“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 also said public health restrictions in response to COVID-19 have helped protect hospitals from collapse and saved many lives.

He noted that Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, is working on a plan to end Ontario’s vaccine certificate system. But that plan has been in the works since well before the convoy protests began, Ford said.

“I will never, ever negotiate (with) people that break the law, (with) people that are in there illegally and occupying cities,” he said.

“I base it on health. I base it on science. Dr. Moore has clearly said it’s time to move forward. I look forward to Dr. Moore’s measures and recommendations, and will continue to work with Dr. Moore to reopen safely and cautiously.”

Ford said the measures announced Friday will not impede the right to peacefully protest, but will provide more tools to help end the “illegal occupation” of Ottawa and the Ambassador Bridge.

Ontario will also provide “additional authority to consider” stripping the personal and commercial vehicle licences from people not complying with the orders, but details on what form that would take were not immediately available.

The Ontario Provincial Police has provided additional resources to the police in Ottawa and Windsor, Ford said, and the province is going after the convoy’s funding.

The Ontario Superior Court granted a request Thursday from the Ontario government to freeze protesters’ access to millions in donations raised on the fundraising platform GiveSendGo.

The court is also set to hear an application Friday for an injunction that would bar protesters from blocking the Ambassador Bridge. The Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association applied for the injunction, and the City of Windsor was granted intervenor status.

At the Ambassador Bridge, protesters cleared vehicles from one lane of a street connecting to the bridge on Friday morning. But demonstrators remained standing in the roadway, traffic still wasn’t flowing and the Canada Border Services Agency continued to list the Canada-bound lanes of the border bridge as “temporarily closed.”

Brad Frederick, who’s out of work because he refused to get vaccinated, said demonstrators wanted to send a signal ahead of the court hearing on the injunction application.

“This is a sign of good faith, to go in and argue in the courtroom and say, ‘We’re opening up one lane, but we’re still exercising our rights to protest,”’ he said.

Mary Sehr, who was also at the protest, said she knows someone who’s been unable to work in recent days because the blockade at the bridge has prevented automotive parts from reaching Canada, but she still feels the demonstration is worth it.

“This is a small price to pay if it is going to boost us into the freedom that we all look for,” Sehr said.

The hearing on the injunction application was set to begin at noon, after Superior Court Justice Geoffrey Morawetz adjourned proceedings Thursday to give defendants a chance to respond.

The Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association argues the occupation at the bridge is doing major harm to the sector, as automakers rely on a “just in time” approach to supplying parts.

“The current blockade of the Ambassador Bridge has significantly disrupted, reduced, and in some cases has stopped vehicle assembly operations at multiple assembly plants in Canada and the USA,” APMA CEO Brian Kingston says in an affidavit filed in court.

“Ford plants in Windsor and Oakville are currently running at reduced capacity because of parts shortage caused by the blockade.”