The Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor reopened Sunday night after a blockade by demonstrators protesting COVID-19 restrictions brought international trade at the busiest U.S.-Canadian border bridge to a grinding halt for the past week.
The Detroit International Bridge Co. announced the reopening of the border crossing, saying the bridge was "now fully open allowing the free flow of commerce between the Canada and US economies once again."
"This action follows a state of emergency declared in Ontario and an injunction granted by an Ontario judge, which took effect Friday," the statement continued.
Live cameras on the company's website showed green lights on some lanes and traffic flow returning to normal.
The Canada Border Services Agency confirmed the bridge reopening just after midnight. At 6 a.m., there was no delay in traffic flow across the bridge, the agency said.
Canadian police earlier Sunday cleared protesters and vehicles in Windsor, Ontario, that had blocked the vital trade route along the border with the United States, with about 25-30 arrests reported.
Turbulence near the bridge lingered all day Sunday and into the evening.
"We would like to remind the public that enforcement is continuing in the demonstration area and there will be zero tolerance for illegal activity," the Windsor police said in a statement on Twitters at 8:40 p.m. "The public should avoid the area."
Shortly after that, the Canada Border Services Agency said "it is working collaboratively with law enforcement partners to restore normal border operations at the Ambassador Bridge port of entry," the agency said in an email Sunday night to Automotive News Canada. "The CBSA would like to thank all travelers and the importing community for their collaboration and patience."
Tensions remained high all day in Windsor.
"Enforcement is continuing as demonstrators are now on Tecumseh Road West in between Northway and Huron Church Road," the police said in a tweet at 2:33 p.m. EST. "There will be zero tolerance for illegal activity. The public should avoid the area. Multiple arrests have been made in this area."
The earlier arrests on Sunday came after a tense standoff between Canadian police and demonstrators since Friday when a court order and threats of arrest failed to end the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge, which entered its sixth day.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens in a statement Sunday morning declared the blockade over, but didn't say when the bridge would reopen.
"Today, our national economic crisis at the Ambassador bridge came to an end. Border crossings will reopen when it is safe to do so and I defer to police and border agencies to make that determination," Dilkens said. "Illegal acts, blockades and hate speech must not be tolerated and should be denounced.
"As Mayor of Windsor, I strongly urge all Provincial and Federal leaders to refrain from any divisive political rhetoric and redouble efforts to help all Canadians heal, as we emerge from almost two years of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions."
At a press conference Sunday, Windsor Police Sgt. Steve Betteridge said authorities hoped to reopen city access routes "later today." But he could not say when the Ambassador Bridge would reopen; he said that decision would be left to border authorities. He said the number of protesters ranged from 100 to 600 over the week-long demonstration.
Betteridge said police would continue to monitor the area but would not elaborate on plans to prevent further disruptions.
POLICE WILL 'ENFORCE THE LAW'
"I'm not going to get into our operational plans right now, but our job is to keep the peace and enforce the law."
The police also issued a statement defending how they handled the protests and the arrests.
"Police used discretion during the course of the demonstration to avoid creating an unstable situation and potentially putting the public at risk," the Sunday statement said. "This exercising of police discretion should not be confused with lack of enforcement."
On Saturday night, the protest continued and police had pushed the demonstration only 500 yards from the original rally point at the foot of the bridge. But they sealed off side streets to keep more cars from coming in as they worked to clear Huron Church Road and restore bridge traffic.
The rally continued into the night, as the large crowd faced off peacefully with the police who seemed intent on avoiding violence. Demonstrators waved Canadian flags and bellowed shouts of “Freedom!”
President Joe Biden has asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to use federal powers to end the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge, North America's busiest land border crossing. Since Monday, protesters in trucks, cars and vans blocked traffic in both directions, choking the supply chain for Detroit's carmakers.
“These are people who have been told by protest organizers that they’re violating no laws,” Michael Kempa, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, told CBC News. “So the police have a tough challenge on their hands in that they’re constantly trying to demonstrate to people that their protest is, in fact, illegal. That’s why they’re moving so slowly. It’s just a constant communicative strategy.”
Ontario’s Superior Court granted an injunction Friday to end the blockade, hours after Ontario Premier Doug Ford called a state of emergency in Canada’s largest province and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told protesters that it’s time to go home. A larger protest has been taking place for more than two weeks in Ottawa, where hundreds of semi trucks have blocked downtown streets, including the one in front of Canada’s parliament.
The Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit has been closed almost entirely since Monday night. The conduit carries about one-quarter of the commercial goods trade between the U.S. and Canada -- an estimated $13.5 million an hour.
It’s particularly vital to the auto sector, which relies on a supply chain that includes assembly plants and parts makers in Ontario and Quebec. Automakers including General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Stellantis and Toyota Motor Corp. have been forced to curb production this week for lack of parts. An association of auto parts manufacturers was among the parties that applied for the court injunction.
The demonstrations have had staying power in Canada in large part because police, wary of stoking violence, have hesitated to make arrests and clear the blockades.
Ontario’s premier Friday called the situation “a pivotal moment for our nation” and said the eyes of the world were watching how Canada and its leaders deal with public unrest over vaccine mandates and Covid-19 restrictions. His government enacted new powers to end the blockades, including the threat of fines of as much as C$100,000 ($78,500) and jail time.
Police passed out fliers Friday night at the bridge protest, warning of the penalties for not leaving. But many protesters said they had no intention of budging.
“This is about freedom. And this is about our rights being stolen from us,” said Ronald Lyons, who was there with his adult son. “I’m willing to starve for this country.”
Another protester who declined to give her full name said she was willing to be arrested rather than back down. The woman said she was a former health-care worker who lost her job because she refused to get vaccinated, and now works as a supermarket cashier for half the pay.
Automotive News staff, Crain's Detroit Business, Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report.