The Canadian province of Ontario will end its requirement that people show proof of Covid-19 inoculation at public venues, as anti-vaccine mandate protests that had blocked a crucial US-Canada trade route ended but demonstrations continued in the nation’s capital.
Doug Ford, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative premier, said Canada’s most populous province would lift several pandemic-era restrictions in the coming weeks following a decline in reported Covid infections, which had surged amid the spread of the Omicron variant.
The move also comes hours after a blockade at the Ambassador Bridge — which links Windsor, Canada, with Detroit, US — came to an end, although protests against Covid rules are continuing in Canada’s capital Ottawa, Ontario. “Freedom Convoy” protests spread from Ottawa to the Ambassador Bridge and another border crossing in Coutts, Alberta, piling pressure on Liberal prime minister Justin Trudeau.
The protest at the Windsor-Detroit bridge, a key conduit for trade between the US and Canada, rippled across the automotive industry, forcing General Motors, Ford and Toyota to scale back production last week as it faced a shortage of parts stemming from the logjam.
Ontario will lift the proof-of-vaccination rule for restaurants, gyms and sporting events on March 1. On Thursday, it will ease limits on the size of social gatherings and entirely drop capacity limits for indoor businesses where vaccines are at present required, including restaurants.
“Like all of you, I’ve waited a long time for this news, but please never doubt that the steps we took together, as difficult as they were, were absolutely necessary and saved tens of thousands of lives,” said Ford.
Addressing the protesters who have occupied the Ottawa capital for 18 days, Ford said: “It’s unacceptable that they have a million people held hostage right now and again . . . we won’t tolerate it.”
“My message to the protesters, occupiers, it has to come to an end,” he said, adding they would “lose your [commercial] licence for life, lose your car indefinitely, we’re going to throw every tool we’ve got at you”.
Meanwhile, the CBC reported on Monday that Trudeau would invoke the Emergencies Act, which has never been used before, to give the federal government more powers to remove the protesters. Its predecessor, the War Measures Act, was used by Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, to quell a violent revolt by Quebec separatists during the October Crisis in 1970.
Police cleared the last protesters from the Ambassador Bridge on Sunday, after a judge ordered an end to the blockade and Ford threatened hefty fines and a year in jail for anyone blocking access to roads and bridges.
Matt Moroun, chair of Detroit International Bridge Company that owns the bridge, cheered its reopening and called on authorities to develop a plan that would “protect and secure all border crossings in the Canada-US corridor and ensure that this kind of disruption to critical infrastructure will never happen again”.
“I would also like to recognise the hard-working truck drivers who exercised their right to free speech and made their voices heard,” Moroun said in a statement.
While GM said its production had returned to normal, all three lines at Toyota’s plants in Canada remained shut down on Monday, and only some lines are running at three of its US factories that were hit by shortages.
“We expect related disruptions to continue this week, and we’ll make adjustments as needed,” Toyota said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Steff Chavez in Chicago