Ontario premier declares state of emergency over border blockade

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has declared a state of emergency in response to the continued protest cutting off a key trade route, warning people continuing to block the Ambassador Bridge that there will be severe consequences.

Ford, a Conservative Party member, has also announced plans to continue moving forward with dropping most restrictions on businesses as part of the province’s previously-announced reopening plan. He defended the pandemic restrictions, saying they were necessary to save lives.

Ford also repeated earlier announcements that his government is moving forward with a plan that will allow the province to remove the vaccine passport system.

Truckers and others upset with pandemic restrictions have been blocking Canadian-bound lanes of the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, since Monday. Detroit-bound traffic has also been slowed, affecting production by auto manufacturers on both sides of the border as well as shipments of food to Canada.

"While I appreciate the right to protest, that right cannot and must not extend to cutting off that lifeline," Ford said at a news conference Friday.

The border blockade came as several hundred trucks and other large vehicles continue to block streets around Canadian Parliament in Ottawa. Ford said he will convene the cabinet enact potential penalties of up to a year in prison, fines of $100,000, and the loss of personal and commercial licenses.

"I call it a siege because that’s what it is. It is an illegal occupation," Ford said.

Ford said the demonstrations are not representative of truckers as a whole, pointing out that a trucking industry group does not support the action. The Canadian Trucking Alliance has estimated that 85% of truckers in Canada are vaccinated.

He defended the right of people to peacefully protest and said the vast majority of people who initially attended the Ottawa protest demonstrated peacefully, made their point, and left.

Ford said people seeking to make changes should do it at the ballot box.

Border crossings at Emerson, Manitoba, and Coutts, Alberta, have also been blocked this week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.