A police raid on the bridge blockade at Windsor, Ontario, failed to shut it down. With protesters in Ottawa also digging in, what will it take to get them to budge?
They arrived by the bus load – police in balaclavas and carrying long guns, ready to oust dozens of protesters blocking roads leading to the Ambassador Bridge.
There were pickups and SUVs festooned with Canadian flags, anti-vaccination slogans and anti-Trudeau epithets, as well as some heavy commercial trucks.
About 100 vehicles have been parked along the roughly 2km (1.25 miles) of road leading up to the bridge for almost a week.
The Freedom Convoy, as it’s been called, began as a protest against a mandate requiring truckers who cross the US-Canada border to be vaccinated.
But the group is not united by any one occupation – rather, they share a distrust of vaccines, a concern for government overreach and a general dislike of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
More than 12 hours after a court issued an injunction ordering the Windsor site to be cleared, the police moved in on Saturday morning. A number of vehicles agreed to leave immediately, although not without a loud honk or a shout of disapproval.
More were ticketed and towed in the evening. But vehicles are no longer the problem, says Jason Bellaire, deputy chief of operations for the Windsor Police Service.
The problem is the people, he says.
“We need to make it exceeding clear they’re not welcome to stay here, they’re not welcome to disrupt our bridge traffic, they’re not welcome to disrupt our community,” he told the BBC.
While many of the vehicles are now gone, a hundred or so people remain blocking the road – a mix of evangelical Christians, anti-mask mums, vaccine skeptics and local residents who are tired of lockdowns and vaccine passports.
“They [government leaders] are not following the laws that God gave them,” said Tina, who did not give the BBC her last name. The young woman’s eyes welled with tears when she described how vaccine mandates have impacted her family.
“I want to see my family if they get sick. I’ve seen so many families die alone, they cannot say their goodbyes. It’s not fair,” she said. “My nieces – they don’t know where their grandpa went because they didn’t get to say goodbye.”
Police have pushed them forward, inch by inch, down the empty road away from the bridge, but their gains are slow. The occupied roads have many entry points and are surrounded by residential streets and backyards, making it easy to walk in. People are coming and going freely, helping the protest grow.
While law enforcement has come prepared with armoured vehicles and tactical gear, they seem hesitant to act aggressively. So far they’ve made few arrests.
Carrying flags and singing “O Canada”, the nation’s anthem, the protesters say they won’t go until all mandates are over.
Canada has a 90% vaccination rate, far higher than the US, and in many parts of the country you need to show proof of vaccination to access bars, gyms and restaurants.