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Judge grants injunction extension to keep Ambassador Bridge clear

Police officers hold a line as protesters support the truckers as the police enforce an injunction against their demonstration, which has blocked traffic across the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022. The City of Windsor is in court arguing to extend the injunction granted last week that prohibits blocking a busy international bridge.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

A busy international bridge will remain clear of protesters and vehicles, an Ontario judge ordered Friday after the City of Windsor argued there was a "real and present threat" of another blockade.

Ontario Superior Court Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz granted an extension of an injunction sought by the city that prohibits blocking access to the Ambassador Bridge. His previous order was set to expire Monday.

The city asked for the order to remain in place until otherwise changed or discharged by the court, which Morawetz agreed to. 

The judge did not explain his decision, but told virtual court he would provide reasons next week.

Canada-bound traffic was blocked for a week at the bridge that connects Windsor, Ont., with Detroit by protesters who oppose COVID-19 measures and vaccine mandates.

The bridge is considered the busiest commercial trade route in North America with some $400 million of goods traversing it every day.

"There is a real and present threat that the blockade will return," Jennifer King, a lawyer representing the city, argued earlier Friday.

The city also successfully argued to become the lead plaintiff in the case, which was initially brought to court by the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association.

Last Friday, Morawetz ordered an injunction that made it illegal to block or impede access to the bridge for 10 days.

“The activities that are the subject of this injunction, the freedom that those want directly results in the denial of freedom to others in society," Morawetz said at the time. 

"The direct denial of their freedom to work. The direct denial of their freedom to cross and to move goods and services across the bridge."

The city argued there were clear breaches of both its own bylaws that prohibit blocking traffic and Morawetz's order after it came into effect.

When the order came into effect at 7 p.m. last Friday, about 500 protesters mingled near the bridge, King said.

That number swelled to some 800 people by Saturday, she said. By then, authorities had issued nearly 40 tickets and towed seven vehicles.

On Sunday, scores of officers cleared the area, arresting more than 40 protesters, King said. They laid 43 mischief charges and 43 charges of breaching Morawetz's court order.

Around midnight, hours after police had taken control of the area, the Ambassador Bridge reopened.

Afterward, police monitored social media, King said, and pointed to several posts suggesting protesters wanted to take back the bridge.

"Today is not a setback, today is the beginning of a regroup," one post read, according to King. 

"The war is far from over" another post read.

She also said police intercepted a small truck convoy some 250 kilometres from Windsor that was purportedly on its way from Ottawa to the Ambassador Bridge.

King argued that the city's own bylaws continue to be breached, thus necessitating an extension of the injunction until the court deems it no longer necessary.

The court order also allows police to remove vehicles and any other object that impedes or blocks access to the Ambassador Bridge.

A lawyer for the protesters, part of a group called the Citizens of Freedom, argued the continuation of the injunction has questionable utility given traffic is flowing to and from the bridge.

"I submit that the risk, if any exists at all, is insignificant and disproportionate to the relief being sought," said Antoine d’Ailly.

"There is certainly no imminent threat."

He said there have been no breaches of the court order since Monday. 

There is a heavy police presence along a five-kilometre stretch of the main road leading to the bridge, coupled with concrete barriers preventing access from side streets that also make the injunction unnecessary, d’Ailly argued.

James Kitchen, another lawyer for the group, argued the court order was overly broad and infringed upon the right to free expression and free assembly. He argued that sidewalks are public and where protesters should be allowed to gather. 

There is a protest set for Saturday at a riverside park, court heard.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2022. 

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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