Ford and Toyota said Wednesday they were halting some production as anti-coronavirus mandate protesters blocked border crossings between the United States and Canada, prompting warnings from Washington and Ottawa to economic damage.
Many pandemic-weary Western countries will soon mark two years of restrictions as protests against copycats spread to Australia, New Zealand and France amid dwindling cases of the highly infectious Omicron variant in some places.
Loud protests have caused traffic jams in the capital Ottawa since late January and starting Monday night, truckers shut down traffic entering Canada at the Ambassador Bridge, a supply route for automakers and agricultural products from Detroit .
Some automakers are now affected by the disruption near Detroit, the historic heart of the US auto industry. But there were other factors too, such as extreme weather conditions and a shortage of semiconductor chips.
Toyota, the top seller in the United States, said it is not expected to produce vehicles at its Ontario sites for the rest of the week.
Production was halted at a Ford engine plant and manufacturer Chrysler Stellantis had its production halted.
Another border crossing in the province of Alberta has been closed in both directions since Tuesday evening.
More than two-thirds of the 650 billion Canadian dollars ($511 billion) of goods traded annually between Canada and the United States are transported by road.
The “Freedom Convoy” occupying downtown Ottawa was started by protesters opposed to a vaccination or quarantine mandate for cross-border truckers and has replicated in the United States. Protesters in Canada are also voicing grievances over a carbon tax and other laws.
“I think it’s important for everyone in Canada and the United States to understand what the impact of this lockdown is – potential impact – on workers, on the supply chain, and that’s where we we focus the most,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. said Wednesday.
“We are also looking to track potential disruptions to US agricultural exports from Michigan to Canada.”
Washington is working with authorities across the border to redirect traffic to the Blue Water Bridge, which connects Port Huron, Michigan, to Sarnia, Ontario, as protests could turn violent, Psaki told reporters.
Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem called for a quick resolution.
“If there were to be prolonged lockdowns at major points of entry into Canada, this could begin to have a measurable impact on economic activity,” he said.
“We already have a tight global supply chain. We don’t need that.
The protests were also disrupting jobs and “must stop before more damage occurs,” Canadian Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair told reporters.
Ford has suspended engine production in Windsor while its plant in Oakville, near Toronto, operates on a reduced schedule, as it warned that the closure of the Ambassador Bridge “could have a widespread impact on all automakers in the States. United States and Canada”.
Chrysler manufacturer Stellantis also faced a parts shortage at its Windsor, Ont., assembly plant, where it had to end shifts early Tuesday but was able to resume production Wednesday.
Protesters say they are peaceful, but some Ottawa residents have said they have been attacked and harassed. In Toronto, the streets were blocked.
“We continue to know that scientific and public health rules and advice are the best way to [end] this pandemic is how we are going to get to the other side,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The issue has caused a sharp split between the ruling Liberals and opposition Conservatives, many of whom have expressed open support for protesters in Ottawa and accuse Trudeau of using the mandate issue for political purposes.
In the United States, prosecutors in Missouri and Texas will investigate crowdfunding service GoFundMe over the decision to take down a page for a campaign in support of drivers after some Republicans promised to investigate.
Residents of downtown Ottawa criticized police for their initially permissive attitude toward the blockade, but authorities began trying to regain control Sunday night with the seizure of thousands of liters of fuel and the removal of a tanker.
Police have called for reinforcements – both officers and people with legal expertise in insurance and licensing – suggesting intentions to pursue enforcement through commercial vehicle licensing.
But as authorities attempt to quell protests in one area, they are popping up elsewhere.
“While we have made progress in Ottawa, we have seen an illegal blockade emerge in Windsor,” said Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.