A crowd of defiant anti-mandate demonstrators remained on the street near the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., on Saturday night, hours after police had moved in to break up the days-long protest and clear some of the blockade.
By evening, protesters had gathered just behind the concrete barricades police stretched along Huron Church Road, which leads to the international border crossing, connecting Windsor with Detroit.
The crowd had grown throughout the day, and while more people arrived during the evening, the numbers began to decline. Still, many braved the bitter cold to show continued support to the protest — one of several taking place across Canada against COVID-19 measures.
“There’s strength in numbers,” said Windsor resident Adam Jones. “It’s about time everybody stood up. If everyone had stood up in the beginning, it wouldn’t have got this far.”
Saturday evening’s gathering was somewhat similar to previous nights, with people waving Canadian flags, shouting “Freedom,” occasionally breaking into O Canada. What was missing, however, were the big rigs that had been blocking traffic on the crucial border crossing into the United States after a police effort earlier in the day.
Officers from Windsor, London, Ont., and the Ontario Provincial Police were able to clear out the intersection at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge by forming a line — slowly pushing back protesters and forcing many vehicles to clear the area.
But police eventually stopped pushing the protesters back, and didn’t block other access points, which allowed more people to arrive and join the protesting crowd.
Late Saturday evening, Windsor police said they arrested a 27-year-old man “for a criminal offence in relation to the demonstration.”
They did not say what charges he may face or release any further details about the incident.
Jones said he didn’t know whether the blockade would produce any change, but that it’s “better to stand for something, than nothing.”
“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything,” he said.
Kat McFadden, a teacher who opposes the mandates for school children, said she believed the crowd would stay peaceful, but would hold their ground as much as possible.
“Nobody’s here to get hurt. Nobody’s here to destroy anything. We’re all here just to make a point and to stand strong and show everyone what Canada is really about.”
The efforts to clear the blockade began at about 8:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, when Windsor police urged all demonstrators to “act lawfully and peacefully” as they moved in, following the granting of an injunction by a judge on Friday.
One officer on a megaphone warned protesters that police were opening the intersection to traffic and if they failed to comply, they would be arrested for mischief.
Some of the demonstrators shouted “shame,” “freedom” and “you’re on the wrong side.” Others vowed that “we’ll be back” and “it isn’t over.”
By the afternoon, all of the big rigs had left, many laying on their horns as they departed. The intersection is now clear of vehicles and protesters, though the Ambassador Bridge — typically Canada’s busiest border crossing — remains closed.
As Peter Frose drove away from the spot where he had parked his Honda Civic since Tuesday, he said that despite police moving in to break up the days-long blockade, the protest had been entirely worth it.
“One hundred per cent,” he said. “Everyone knows what happened here.
“I think [the police are] wrong. They should be on our side,” Frose said. “We’re here to protest. We’re here for peace. We don’t want to cause any problems.”
Even though police have been moving in on protesters in Windsor, pushing them back, the crowd size actually seems to be growing. More protesters are arriving and few are leaving. <a href=”https://t.co/zC44VwqtUA”>pic.twitter.com/zC44VwqtUA</a>
Dave Hickman, who was physically pushed back by police, later held up a large Canadian flag in front of the police line to “block their view to make them feel all freaked out,” he said.
“Part of it is to hold the flag because I want people on the news worldwide to see we’re standing for something,” he said.
People have been parked at the bridge since Monday, opposing COVID-19 public health measures such as vaccine mandates. They have been bracing for police enforcement since 7 p.m. on Friday, after Ontario Superior Court Chief Justice Geoffrey B. Morawetz granted an injunction demanding they clear the bridge.
The injunction was sought by several auto groups, including the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, which has argued that the protest blocking traffic along the major U.S.-Canada trade route is costing the sector tens of millions of dollars each day.
But it’s a concern that doesn’t seem to register with many of those taking part in or supporting the blockade.
Jill Goodman, who works for a manufacturing company in Windsor, said Friday that the blockade has been the only effective way to get the attention of policy-makers.
“We’re not being listened to any other way,” she said.