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Illustration by Security Management 

Canadian Anti-Vaccine Protest Blocks International Trade Route

It started as a protest, but now it’s a trade blockade—and it’s spreading.

The busiest land crossing between the United States and Canada—the Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario—was closed 8 February because Canadian truckers blocked lanes to protest government pandemic control measures. The bridge typically handles around 8,000 trucks every day—representing about a quarter of all cross-border trade between the two countries. Later Tuesday night, another border crossing in Alberta, Canada, was shut down by protesters for inbound and outbound traffic, Reuters reported.

The protests are stalling millions of dollars worth of trade every day. Shipments of everything from cattle to car parts are stuck. Trucks were being diverted from the Ambassador Bridge to the Blue Water Bridge, 68 miles away.

The demonstrations started 28 January in Ottawa, Canada's capital, protesting federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border truck drivers. The protests have since morphed into a protest against pandemic restrictions in general and current government leadership. Police have said that “volatile” and “determined” protesters remain in the capital, which is under a state of emergency after protesters used their vehicles to blockade the city center, the BBC reported.

“Though the rally has been mostly peaceful, police have expressed concern about extremist rhetoric coming from far-right groups among the protesters,” according to the BBC. “As well as reported racial and homophobic abuse, some danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial.”

Prominent far-right figures worldwide have praised the protests, and the demonstrations have become a rallying cry for far-right and anti-vaccine groups, The New York Times reported. Flags bearing swastikas, Confederate symbols, and images of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau being lynched have been spotted at the protest, according to The Globe and Mail. While physical violence has been limited at the protest, threatening behavior, property damage, and hate crimes are significant concerns.  

Nearly 80 criminal investigations have been opened in relation to the protests, and police are increasingly concerned about the number of vulnerable people in the blockades—about a quarter of vehicles involved have children in them.

Prime Minister Trudeau announced that hundreds of Royal Canadian Mounted Police would be supporting Ottawa police in managing the protest. Ottawa police warned that they might have to call in military aid to disband the protest, according to The Guardian, but Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly warned that the move carried “massive risk,” because many protesters are believed to have weapons.

Elsewhere in the world, the truckers’ tactics appear to be catching on.

In Australia, an anti-vaccine protest has lasted for more than a week. Inspired by the Canadian protests, around 1,000 anti-vaccine and anti-government demonstrators brought few vehicles but many signs to Canberra, Australia's capital city. Lawmakers are concerned that the situation could escalate further, The Washington Post reported. Similar anti-vaccine protests in Melbourne turned violent in 2021.  

New Zealand had its own “Convoy for Freedom” protest, with hundreds of anti-vaccine protesters blocking streets in the capital city of Wellington on 8 February. The protest dwindled to a few dozen the next day, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern dismissed them as a fringe minority.

“I think it would be wrong to in any way characterize what we’ve seen outside as a representation of the majority,” she told reporters. “The majority of New Zealanders have done everything they can to keep one another safe.”

A group of American anti-vaccine truckers have pledged to bring a demonstration to the U.S. capital city, Washington, D.C., in March. According to social media messages, a convoy of trucks would begin in California and travel to D.C., although the exact route and timing are unclear.