TORONTO — The truck blockade by Canadians protesting the country’s COVID-19 restrictions is tightening the screws on the auto industry, forcing Ford, Toyota and General Motors to shut down plants or otherwise curtail production on both sides of the US.-Canada border.
The bumper-to-bumper demonstration entered its fourth day Thursday at the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit, disrupting the flow of auto parts and other products back and forth across the border.
Meanwhile, U.S. authorities braced for the possibility of similar truck-convoy protests in the United States, and authorities in Paris and Belgium banned road blockades to head off disruptions there too.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in a bulletin to local and state law enforcement agencies that it has received reports that truckers are planning to “potentially block roads in major metropolitan cities” in a protest against vaccine mandates and other issues.
DHS said the convoy could begin in Southern California as early as this weekend, possibly disrupting traffic around the Super Bowl, and reach Washington in March in time for the State of the Union, according to a copy of Tuesday’s bulletin obtained by The Associated Press. It said that the protest could be disruptive and tie up traffic but that there have been no calls for violence.
The ban on road blockades in Europe and the threat of prison time and heavy fines were likewise prompted by online chat groups in France that have been calling for drivers to converge on Paris starting Friday night, and to continue on to Brussels on Monday.
The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest U.S.-Canadian border crossing, carrying 25% of all trade between the two countries, and the effects of the blockade there were felt rapidly.
Ford said its Windsor, Ontario, engine plant reopened Thursday after being shut down on Wednesday because of a lack of parts. But the factory and the company’s assembly plant in Oakville, Ontario, near Toronto, are operating at reduced capacity, the automaker said.
“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 widespread impact on all automakers in the U.S. and Canada.”
On the U.S. side, GM canceled the second shift on Wednesday and the first shift Thursday at its midsize SUV factory outside Lansing, Michigan.
Toyota said it will not be able to manufacture anything at three Canadian plants for the rest of the week because of parts shortages. In a statement, the automaker blamed supply chain disruptions, weather and pandemic-related problems, but the shutdowns came just days after the blockade began Monday.
Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler, said all of its North American factories were running Thursday, but shortages because of the blockade forced it to shorten shifts at several plants.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration is watching the bridge blockade closely, noting the risk to the U.S. auto industry.
Hundreds of demonstrators in trucks have also paralyzed the streets of downtown Ottawa for almost two weeks, and dozens more have been blocking the border crossing at Coutts, Alberta, decrying vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers and other COVID-19 restrictions and railing against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Freedom Truck Convoy has been promoted and cheered on by many Fox News personalities and attracted support from the likes of former President Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said Wednesday that police had not removed protesters there for fear of inflaming the situation. But he added: “We’re not going to let this happen for a prolonged period of time.”
As of Wednesday, the demonstration involved 50 to 74 vehicles and about 100 protesters, police said. Ottawa police said Thursday they were “able to negotiate for a dozen more trucks to leave” downtown and said 10 others left, but the city warned about traffic disruptions because of a new demonstration at the Ottawa airport.
To avoid the blockade and get into Canada, truckers in the Detroit area have had to drive 70 miles north to Port Huron, Michigan, and cross the Blue Water Bridge, where there was a 4½-hour delay leaving the U.S.
While protesters have been calling for 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, movie theaters and sporting events.
Many provinces announced plans this week to remove or relax those restrictions after the surge in omicron cases crested in the country.
Pandemic restrictions have been far stricter in Canada than in the U.S., but Canadians have largely supported them. Canada’s COVID-19 death rate is one-third that of the U.S.