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U.S.-Canada bridge reopens but protests persist in Ottawa

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

This morning, the busiest U.S.-Canada border crossing is open again. Canadian police cleared protesters who had been blocking a key bridge connecting Detroit to Windsor. They were demonstrating against COVID-19 restrictions. However, protesters in trucks, RVs and pickups remain in the center of the Canadian capital of Ottawa. Emma Jacobs joins us from Montreal this morning with the latest. Good morning.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So Emma, how was Ambassador Bridge cleared? What happened?

JACOBS: Just for some context first, the Ambassador Bridge carries a quarter of trade between the U.S. and Canada. It's the route a lot of food takes from the U.S. into Ontario. Auto parts get carted back and forth between assembly plants in Ontario and Michigan. This blockade had become so disruptive to those automakers, a number of plants canceled shifts and sent workers home. Saturday morning, large numbers of police arrived just after 8. A lot of the demonstrators in vehicles left early on. But a couple hundred people on foot, including children, remained all day. Then finally, by Sunday morning, their numbers had fallen to just a few dozen people. And that was when large numbers of police moved in again to definitively clear the roadway. City of Windsor police said they made more than two-dozen arrests and towed around 10 vehicles. The bridge reopened yesterday evening. Windsor Police Chief Pamela Mizuno said the bridge would not be closed again.

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PAMELA MIZUNO: Any unlawful activity in the area will not be tolerated. And officers will take the necessary action to keep the peace and traffic flowing. There will be criminal consequences for those who interfere with or interrupt traffic flow.

FADEL: OK. So that's what happened in Windsor, right across the bridge from Detroit. But today, you're headed back to Ottawa, which is about 6 1/2 hours north of there, where there are still protesters.

JACOBS: Yeah. In Ottawa, this is the beginning of a third week of these noisy protests. A couple hundred big rigs and other vehicles have been parked downtown, surrounding parliament. On the weekends, they've been joined by thousands of people. And the nights have been much louder. On Friday night, the demonstrators put up a stage for a concert. Residents have complained about the noise and about aggressive behavior of some demonstrators, and have expressed frustration and anger that police have not enforced the law.

FADEL: So are they doing anything themselves?

JACOBS: This weekend, we saw a shift. There were larger counter-demonstrations by Ottawa residents. A number of people had signs saying, make Ottawa boring again...

FADEL: (Laughter).

JACOBS: ...Which the capital is sort of known for. On Sunday, a group of Ottawa residents blocked more convoy vehicles that were headed downtown. The Ottawa Citizen reported this was started by a dog-walking group. But hundreds of people joined over the course of the day. Things became tense. And those vehicles were escorted away from the crowd. At the same time, we learned the mayor agreed to meet with the demonstrators if they move vehicles away from residences and closer to government buildings. One key leader of the convoy indicated they may comply.

FADEL: So does that - is that a sign of progress? Does that mean, maybe, we will see an end to this?

JACOBS: It's a negotiated de-escalation, yes. However, a lot of the participants in these demonstrations have said they will not go home until all public health mandates are lifted. And some seem very intent on seeing this all the way through. So it is a tense moment. And it's not at all clear how this will resolve itself.

FADEL: Emma Jacobs in Montreal, thank you for all your reporting on this. And I'm sure we'll check back with you again soon.

JACOBS: Talk with you soon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Emma Jacobs