OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Ontario’s premier announced Monday that Canada’s most populous province will lift its COVID-19 vaccination proof requirements in two weeks — not because of the stalled protests the border and paralyzed Ottawa, he said, but because “it’s safe to do so”.
The busiest border crossing between the United States and Canada, meanwhile, was reopened on Monday after police removed the last of the protesters who had jammed the Ambassador Bridge for nearly a week during a protest against Canada’s virus restrictions. But the largest trucked protest in the capital, Ottawa, has persisted as city residents seethe over authorities’ failure to reclaim the streets.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on March 1 the province will drop its requirement that people show proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, eateries, gyms and sporting events. A wave of cases caused by the omicron variant has peaked in Canada.
The province will also remove its 50% capacity limit on restaurants on Thursday, four days earlier than planned. Ford gave no timeline for dropping the requirement that people wear masks in public places.
“Let me be very clear: we are going this way because it is safe to do so. Today’s announcement is not because of what is happening in Ottawa or Windsor, but despite it,” Ford said.
Ford said he would support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government if it proposed new measures to quell the protests.
“”We need law and order. Our country is in danger now. Not only is that not happening here in Ottawa, but it is happening in Alberta and British Columbia,” Ford said. “We will not accept. this”
Trudeau planned to meet virtually with Canadian provincial leaders on Monday morning, as well as lawmakers.
The prime minister has so far rejected calls to use the military, but said ‘all options are on the table’ to end the protests, including invoking the Emergencies Act, which gives the government broad powers to suppress disturbances. Trudeau called the protesters a “fringe” of Canadian society. Federal and provincial politicians have said they cannot direct police what to do.
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said the army should have been deployed after a week of occupation of Ottawa.
“Not invoking it led to the blockade at the Ambassador Bridge and the Manitoba-North Dakota border. The protesters there thought the police wouldn’t or couldn’t act,” Wiseman said.
An earlier version of the Emergencies Act, called the War Measures Act, was used only once in peacetime, by Trudeau’s late father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, to face a militant movement for the independence of Quebec in 1970.
Protests over virus restrictions and other issues have blocked several crossings along the Canada-US border and disrupted the economies of both countries. They also inspired similar convoys in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands. US authorities have said truck convoys may be in preparation in the United States.
Windsor police arrested 25 to 30 protesters and towed several vehicles Sunday near the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor — and many Canadian auto factories — to Detroit. The bridge, which carries 25% of all trade between the two countries, reopened to traffic on Sunday evening.
After protesters began blocking access to the bridge on February 7, automakers began shutting down or cutting production at a time when the industry is already grappling with pandemic-induced shortages of computer chips. and other supply chain disruptions.
“Today our national economic crisis at the Ambassador Bridge came to an end,” Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said Sunday.
About 470 miles (750 kilometers) northeast of Windsor, the protest in Ottawa has paralyzed downtown, infuriated residents who are fed up with police inaction and is mounting pressure on Trudeau.
The city appeared to have reached a deal in which protesters, who have blocked downtown streets with trucks and other vehicles for more than two weeks, would leave residential areas and limit their protests to the Hill Hill area of Parliament, but these prospects quickly faded. .
In a letter to protesters, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said residents were “exhausted” and “on edge” because of the protests, and he warned that some businesses were on the verge of permanent closure.
“It’s stressful. I feel angry about what’s going on. This isn’t Canada. It doesn’t represent us,” Colleen Sinclair, a counter-protester who lives in Ottawa.
Sinclair said all protesters have had their say and must move on – with the police, if necessary.
“They are occupiers,” she said. “This is domestic terrorism and we want you to get out of our town. Go home.”
As protesters decry vaccination mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 restrictions, many of Canada’s public health measures, such as mask rules and vaccination passports to enter restaurants and theaters, are already falling as omicron’s thrust stabilizes.
Pandemic restrictions have been much stricter in Canada than in the United States, but Canadians have largely supported them. The vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and the death rate from COVID-19 is one-third that of the United States.
A judge on Friday ordered an end to the Ambassador Bridge blockade and Ford declared a state of emergency, authorizing fines of 100,000 Canadian dollars and up to a year in prison for anyone who blocks roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer hailed the end of the blockade as “a victory for working families in Michigan who are just trying to do their jobs and for businesses who can get back to shipping their wares and products.” She added: “It’s important to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Michigan officials estimate that 10,000 commercial vehicles cross the bridge every day carrying $325 million in goods, including about $50 million in auto parts.
The Windsor protest began to dwindle on Saturday after police persuaded many protesters to remove vehicles blocking the road leading to the bridge. But in Ottawa, Saturday’s crowd swelled to what police said were 4,000 protesters, and a counter-protest by frustrated Ottawa residents trying to block the convoy of trucks from entering downtown emerged on Sunday.
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