Questions remain after Canadian truckers cleared from US border bridge

A bridge connecting Detroit and Ontario, Canada, has officially reopened, ending a nearly weeklong standoff between police and truck drivers protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates required to cross the U.S.-Canadian border.

Authorities cleared protesters from the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit on Sunday night, allowing operations to resume. But U.S. officials are warning that the protests could now spread out across the U.S., including in Washington, D.C., with some suggesting it could disrupt operations around the nation’s capital leading up to President Biden’s first State of the Union address on March 1.

Here are five questions that remain about the protests.

Are there still more protests?

The trucker-led “freedom convoy” protests have persisted in Canada and, despite the end to the Ambassador Bridge blockade, the streets of Canada’s capital city of Ottawa are clogged with hundreds of vehicles and thousands of truckers railing against Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s COVID-19 policies.

Authorities were able to successfully move protesters in order to reopen the bridge on Sunday. Up to 30 protesters were detained and vehicles near the bridge were towed. But, before the arrests began, truckers bucked a court order by a judge to end the bridge blockage on Friday at 7 p.m.

The request for an order came from the auto industry in an attempt to reopen the trade route but nearly 100 protesters ignored it and remained on the bridge.

Trudeau on Monday took the extreme step to stop the demonstrations, by invoking the Emergencies Act. The act, which has never been used before, gives him the authority to deal with public welfare, public order and war-related emergencies by taking special temporary measures intended for a national emergency.

Will the protests come to the US?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) last week issued a warning about demonstrations coming to Washington around the time of Biden’s first State of the Union address, which is scheduled for March 1. 

DHS had warned that the protest could coincide with and cause disruptions at the Super Bowl in Los Angeles on Sunday, but those plans appeared to have fizzled.

U.S. officials warned the convoy could begin its trek in Los Angeles and move to Washington by March, which DHS said could disrupt transportation, federal government operations, commercial facilities and emergency services.  

The “Freedom Convoy to DC 2022” Facebook page, which has more than 25,000 members, has highlighted plans for truckers to arrive in Indio, Calif., on March 4 for a rally “to defeat the unconstitutional mandates” and then “roll out of California.”

How much did the blockage hurt trade?

The blockade at the Ambassador Bridge forced automakers to reduce or cease productions, adding to existing shortages and supply chain problems. The bridge carries 25 percent of trade between the U.S. and Canada and is one of the most vital Canadian-U.S. border crossings for trade.

Automakers, including General Motors, Ford, Toyota, and Stellantis canceled shifts at U.S. plants due to parts shortages. 

When the blockage ended at Ambassador Bridge, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens called it the conclusion of a “national economic crisis.”

On Friday, Biden told Trudeau he was concerned about the serious effect of the protests on U.S. companies and workers. He said the impacts have been “slowdowns in production, shortened work hours, and plant closures.”

The United States Trade Representative’s office and the Canadian Embassy both did not respond to requests for data on the impact on trade from the blockage. 

What are leaders saying?

Biden and Trudeau on Friday “agreed that the actions of the individuals who are obstructing travel and commerce between our two countries are having significant direct impacts on citizens’ lives and livelihoods.”

Two of Biden’s Cabinet officials, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, pressed their Canadian counterparts to use federal powers to bring an end to the blockade at the bridges before they successfully did so on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) showed his support for trucker convoys coming to the U.S., blaming the government for starting the protest because of the mandates in place for truckers.

“Peaceful protest, clog things up, make people think about the mandates,” he told The Daily Signal, a publication run by the conservative Heritage Foundation. When asked what he thought of the protests moving to D.C., Paul said it would be a “nice change” and “we’d actually have some traffic.”

What are the demonstrators saying about next plans?

TD Bank froze about $1.1 million sitting in two personal accounts to support the protests, which was funneled in through a donation website, GiveSendGo. A spokesperson for TD Bank told NPR it can’t release the funds without a decision by an Ontario court on where it should go.

Without funding, demonstrators are in a tough position to keep the protests alive. GiveSendGo has insisted the protesters will be able to get their money but hackers reportedly disabled the site on Monday.

“Freedom Convoy,” in a financial update on Sunday, said that truckers on the ground are getting donations from people in Ottawa to use for fuel and other needs, despite the frozen funds. Demonstrators, through the statement, said that truckers are “determined to continue holding the line, despite the financial hurdles the government continues to throw at them.”

Demonstrators have showed no signs of backing down in Ottawa. In another statement on Sunday, organizers said protests and blockages happening in Canada “only strengthens our demonstrators’ resolve here in Ottawa.”

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