After a six-day protest, a police raid has finally put a stop to the costly bridge barricade in Windsor, Ontario, with the crossing reopening for traffic on Sunday night. Is the anti-mandate campaign nearing an end now that a tentative agreement has been reached to relocate the demonstration in Ottawa?
This was the moment that the demonstrators had been waiting for.
As he left the site, Tyler Kok told the BBC, “I was hoping it wouldn’t end like this, I was hoping the cops would let us continue to peacefully protest.”
The officers arrived by busloads on Sunday morning, dressed in balaclavas and armed with long rifles, ready to clear the roads leading to the Ambassador Bridge of the remaining few demonstrators.
A seven-day standoff was about to come to an end.
For days on end, about 100 automobiles had been parked along a 2km (1.25 mile) section of road.
There were Canadian flags, anti-vaccination messages, and anti-Trudeau epithets on pickup trucks, SUVs, and even a dog grooming van, as well as some huge commercial trucks.
Evangelical Christians, anti-mask mothers, vaccine skeptics, and local residents tired of lockdowns and vaccine passports made up the crowd.
The Freedom Convoy originated as a protest against a rule that required truckers crossing the US-Canada border to be vaccinated against Covid.
However, the group is not connected by a common occupation; instead, they share a suspicion of vaccines, a fear of government overreach, and a general hatred of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Similar blockades have appeared at other border crossings across the country, including one in British Columbia where four people were arrested on Sunday.
However, Windsor’s largest one is no longer in operation. After an extremely cold night, the police began stage one of their clearance operation on Saturday, and only a few dozen people remained by Sunday morning.
As a result, the cops could make their final, decisive move. Hundreds of officers pounced on the two remaining encampments on the sole road leading to the bridge, which were about a kilometer apart.
They created cement barricades on all sides and surrounded them with them.
However, while authorities in France used tear gas to disperse comparable protests, Windsor Police claimed they prioritized safety over speed.
A court-ordered injunction had been in place since Friday, but police waited more than 36 hours, conscious that many of the demonstrators were minors.
Sergeant Steve Betteridge told the BBC, “I think that’s something that speaks to our Canadian society.”
The majority of demonstrators voluntarily departed the area and drove their vehicles home, despite the fact that police made roughly 12 arrests. They honked their horns, clearly outnumbered, as a farewell to the roadblock that had lasted far longer than anyone had imagined.
Canada has a vaccination rate of 90%, significantly greater than the United States, and in many regions of the country, evidence of immunization is required to enter bars, gyms, and restaurants.
Then came word of a breakthrough: the mayor of Ottawa and protest leaders had reached an agreement. It might entail a convoy of trucks moving away from residential areas, according to CBC News.
Unlike the Windsor protest, which was confined to a single main road, the Ottawa protest has effectively taken over the heart of a major city, with thousands of protesters strewn across the streets waving Canadian flags.
People play street hockey to the strains of dancing music, honking horns, and yells of “freedom.” Barbecues are set up on the street, with food being handed out to hungry demonstrators.
“This is a freedom movement, not an anti-vax movement. It’s a matter of choice, “On the outskirts of the protests on Saturday evening, Justin Smith and his wife Brandy Lawrence were enjoying Beavertails, a Canadian confection. Both were wearing capes made out of Canadian flags.
Mr Smith stated, “This nation is through and through my heart; I adore Canada like you wouldn’t imagine.”
They claim they despise what requirements have done to their family, which includes their five children ranging in age from six to sixteen.
“I want my children to see a grin on someone’s face when they enter a store. That’s the most heartbreaking thing, “Ms Lawrence stated.
The couple hadn’t been to the Ottawa “red zone” before; they had come to support the convoy on its first weekend, and had driven the five hours from their home in southern Ontario to be there again.
Mr Smith said, “I will do all and everything I can to help these people.”
A police presence is there, however it is largely on the outskirts.
Earlier this week, a court injunction halted the trucks’ loud honking, providing relief to downtown residents who had been irritated by the noise.
However, several locals who have grown tired of the noise and disruption have accused police of standing by and allowing the occupation to continue. Some companies, including a major retail mall, have shuttered or suffered a decrease in foot traffic.
While majority of the demonstrations have been nonviolent, locals have reported being yelled at for wearing masks and having difficulty traveling to and from work, according to the BBC.
“We don’t terrorize individuals by confronting them in masks or barging into companies to harass and threaten employees,” Marika Morris explains. “This isn’t how we express our political opinions.”
If the Ottawa protest created the most social upheaval, the Windsor protest caused the most economic damage by shutting down one of the country’s main commerce routes, the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor and Detroit, Michigan.
Every day, more than $323 million (£238 million) in commodities pass over that bridge, yet for nearly a week, not a single dime has made it to or from the US.
According to Flavio Volpe, head of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association, about half of that revenue comes from the car parts industry.
When it comes to the protest, he is unequivocal.
“We have several dozen people at its heart in Windsor who are macroeconomically illiterate and completely disdainful of their own community to the point where they would jeopardize the region’s economy to make a point,” he added.
“A tantrum has never cost so many people so much.”
Police remained behind after the clearance operation. On Sunday or Monday, the bridge will reopen.
The damage to the auto-parts sector, however, will endure far longer, according to Volpe, because it will take three to four days to fully restore the supply chain. He estimates the overall cost of lost production and shipping at at C$1 billion ($790 million, £580 million).
He also stated that the harm to Canada’s reputation as a trading partner with the United States has been terrible, particularly as American politicians fight for protectionist policies.
Windsor police say they will have “zero tolerance” for any criminal conduct in a statement. However, it is unclear how they will prevent new blockades from forming while keeping the bridge open.
Sergeant Betteridge expressed his hope that the occupants feel heard and that no additional interruption is required.
“The demonstrators came with the intention of sending a message, and I believe they succeeded,” he remarked.
“Anyone considering breaching the law has seen what has occurred here.”