Le Pays De France - Canada truckers block new border crossing, fuel copycat protests

Paris -
Canada truckers block new border crossing, fuel copycat protests
Canada truckers block new border crossing, fuel copycat protests

Canada truckers block new border crossing, fuel copycat protests

Trucker-led protests against coronavirus restrictions in Canada shut down a new US border crossing on Thursday, as copycat movements gathered steam as far afield as Europe and New Zealand.

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The border blockades have already impacted business, with the key Ambassador Bridge linking Ontario and Detroit shut for several days -- and major automakers forced to cut back production at several plants as a result.

A second crossing in the western province of Alberta has been blocked for days, and on Thursday protesters closed down a third -- in central Manitoba.

Citing supply shortages, Ford said it was forced to slow production at factories in Canada, while some Stellantis factories in the United States and Canada halted work Wednesday evening, and Toyota said its plants were also hit.

With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warning the two-week-long protests are threatening Canada's economy, rallies inspired by the trucker movement have sprung up in other countries around the world, from New Zealand to France and Belgium.

An anti-vaccine protest turned ugly Thursday in Wellington, with police clashing with demonstrators in the grounds of parliament and more than 120 people arrested.

In France, thousands inspired by the Canadian truckers planned to converge Friday evening on Paris, with some aiming to move onwards to Brussels.

Paris police moved to prevent the demonstration, saying they would ban so-called "Freedom Convoys" and would stop roads from being blocked, threatening hefty fines or jail.

Belgian authorities vowed similar action.

Canada's self-styled "Freedom Convoy" began last month in the country's west -- launched in anger at requirements that truckers either be vaccinated, or test and isolate, when crossing the US-Canada border.

Having occupied the capital Ottawa for two weeks, the trucker-led protesters have caused significant economic disruption by shutting down the Ambassador suspension bridge -- a trade corridor used daily by more than 40,000 commuters and tourists, and trucks carrying US$323 million worth of goods on average.

Trudeau has warned the border blockades are unacceptable and vowed to "do everything to bring them to an end."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki meanwhile said US officials were "in very close contact" with Canadian border agencies, voicing concern about the impact on the US economy and "a risk to supply chains, to the auto industry."

- 'Canadian pride' -

Canadian and American chambers of commerce and industry associations have likewise demanded the Ambassador Bridge be cleared.

"As our economies emerge from the impacts of the pandemic we cannot allow any group to undermine the cross-border trade," the groups said in a joint statement.

Canada's public safety minister, Marco Mendicino, warned of "serious dangers for the economy" and called on protesters to "go home!"

Presumably eager to stop the movement spreading further at home, several provinces including Alberta, Quebec and Saskatchewan this week announced a gradual lifting or loosening of Covid-19 restrictions.

A court has already ordered the truckers to stop the incessant honking that has upset residents in Ottawa and made sleep difficult.

And on Wednesday, Ottawa police warned protesters they could face criminal charges and their trucks could be seized if they continue their "unlawful" clogging of downtown streets.

But the atmosphere on the streets of the capital remained one of defiance and celebration.

Dennis Elgie, a curling ice technician who came from Toronto to join the protest, called the movement "fantastic."

"I've never seen Canadian pride like this," he told AFP Thursday. "This is history."

"I think people have taken the freedom that we had."

Some 400 vehicles are still camped on Parliament Hill below Trudeau's offices, against a backdrop of barbecues, campfires and music.

"We're not going anywhere," said trucker John Deelstra, smiling from behind the wheel of his big rig, which has been there since day one.

Planted not far away, Ontario trucker Lloyd Brubacher offered up the same resolve.

"I'm not going anywhere," he told AFP.