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Canada protests enter third week as 'sophisticated' demonstrators dig in

The "Freedom Convoy" by Canadian truckers opposing a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, mirrored by the U.S. government, began with the occupation of the Canadian capital, Ottawa.

Truckers and supporters continue to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Ottawa
A demonstrator screams and bangs gas canisters together as truckers and supporters continue to protest coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine mandates, in Ottawa on February 10, 2022.
BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS
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WINDSOR, Ontario — As protests against Canada's pandemic measures enter their third week on Friday, police say they are dealing with sophisticated demonstrators blocking vital U.S.-Canada border crossings and dealing a blow to the economy.

The "Freedom Convoy" by Canadian truckers opposing a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, mirrored by the U.S. government, began with the occupation of the Canadian capital, Ottawa . The truckers then blocked the key Ambassador Bridge earlier this week, and shut down two other smaller border crossings, including the Emerson, Manitoba-Pembina, North Dakota crossing.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was working with municipal leaders to end the blockade. Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said federal police forces would be deployed to Windsor, near the bridge, and to Ottawa.

The Biden administration on Thursday urged Canada to use federal powers to ease the disruption.

In Ottawa, the epicenter of the protests, police were waiting on Thursday for a request for provincial and federal reinforcements to be completed. They have made 25 arrests so far. City police chief Peter Sloly expects the reinforcements to arrive in the next 48 hours, ahead of a potential rise in protesters in the city over the weekend.

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"This is an entirely sophisticated level of demonstrators. They have the capability to run strong organization here provincially and nationally, and we're seeing that play out in real-time," Sloly told reporters.

"It is a significant risk that we're trying to mitigate and overcome, and as we get more resources, we will get better results."

Truckers and their supporters continue to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Ottawa
People holding Canadian flags protest at the Ottawa International Airport, as truckers and their supporters continue to protest against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine mandates, in Ottawa on February 10, 2022.
PATRICK DOYLE/REUTERS

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The Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit is one of the busiest border crossings in North America and a supply route for Detroit's carmakers, some of whom are scrambling to find alternate routes to limit economic damage.

Canada sends 75% of its exports to the United States, and the bridge usually handles 8,000 trucks a day, representing a quarter of all cross-border trade, or about $392.56 million per day.

More than $127 million worth of auto parts cross the border each day, with many shipments timed to arrive just as manufacturers need them.

General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co, Chrysler parent Stellantis and Toyota Motor Corp have been impacted by the blockades.

While officials at the federal, provincial and municipal levels have held regular meetings, they have had limited impact on the ground.

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Ottawa Police lost their enforcement opportunity when the convoy first rolled into town at the end of January, said Carleton University criminologist Jeffrey Monaghan, adding they now have no good options.

Monaghan said the police could go in aggressively and risk a violent confrontation or they could tighten the screws — a longer-term approach that will likely anger residents.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens has sought an injunction from the Ontario Superior Court to have the protesters at the bridge removed, adding he was striving to resolve the issue peacefully and ensure nobody gets hurt.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; editing by Karishma Singh.)

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