A blockade of the bridge between Canada and Detroit in the US by protesters demanding an end to Canada’s Covid-19 restrictions has forced a Ford plant to shut down and begun to have broader implications for the North American car industry.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, stood firm against an easing of Canada’s Covid restrictions in the face of mounting pressure during recent weeks.
The protest by people mostly in pick-up trucks entered its third day at the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. Traffic was prevented from entering Canada, while US-bound traffic was still moving.
The bridge carries 25% of all trade between the two countries, and Canadian authorities expressed increasing worry about the economic effects.
Ford said that parts shortages forced it to shut down its engine plant in Windsor and to run an assembly plant in Oakville, Ontario, on a reduced schedule.
“This interruption on the Detroit-Windsor bridge hurts customers, auto workers, suppliers, communities and companies on both sides of the border,” Ford said in a statement. “We hope this situation is resolved quickly because it could have a widespread impact on all automakers in the US and Canada.”
Shortages due to the blockade also forced General Motors to cancel the second shift of the day at its midsize-SUV factory near Lansing, Michigan. Spokesman Dan Flores said it was expected to restart on Thursday and no additional impact was expected for the time being.
Toyota spokesman Scott Vazin said the company will not be able to manufacture anything at three Canadian plants for the rest of this week due to parts shortages. A statement attributed the problem to supply chain, weather and pandemic-related challenges, but the shutdowns came just days after the blockade began on Monday.
“Our teams are working diligently to minimise the impact on production,” the company said.
“We are watching this very closely,″ White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said of the bridge blockade.
“The blockade poses a risk to supply chains for the auto industry because the bridge is a key conduit for motor vehicles, components and parts, and delays risk disrupting auto production.”
A growing number of Canadian provinces have moved to lift some of their precautions as the Omicron surge levels off, but Mr Trudeau defended the measures the federal government is responsible for, including the one that has angered many truck drivers: a rule that took effect on January 15 requiring lorry drivers entering Canada to be fully vaccinated.
“The reality is that vaccine mandates, and the fact that Canadians stepped up to get vaccinated to almost 90%, ensured that this pandemic didn’t hit as hard here in Canada as elsewhere in the world,” Mr Trudeau said in Parliament.
About 90% of lorry drivers in Canada are vaccinated, and trucker associations and many big-rig operators have denounced the protests. The US has the same vaccination rule for drivers entering the country, so it would make little difference if Mr Trudeau lifted the restriction.
Protesters have also been blocking the border crossing at Coutts, Alberta, for a week and a half, with about 50 trucks remaining there on Wednesday. And more than 400 trucks have paralysed downtown Ottawa, Canada’s capital, in a protest that began late last month.
While protesters have been calling for Mr Trudeau’s removal, most of the restrictive measures around the country have been put in place by provincial governments. Those include requirements that people show proof-of-vaccination “passports” to enter restaurants, gyms, cinemas and sporting events.
Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia announced plans this week to roll back some or all of their precautions. Alberta, Canada’s most conservative province, dropped its vaccine passport immediately and plans to get rid of mask requirements at the end of the month.
To avoid the blockade to get into Canada, truckers in the Detroit area had to drive 70 miles north to Port Huron, Michigan, and cross the Blue Water Bridge, where there was a four-hour delay leaving the US.