Truckers’ anti-vax protest starting to harm Canada, US economies

By Julio Cesar Rivas

Ottawa, Feb 10 (EFE).- Big US and Canadian automobile manufacturers have found themselves forced to reduce production due to the protests by Canadian anti-vax truckers that are affecting several border crossing points between the two countries amid a pre-existing pandemic-caused supply chain crisis.

The blockade of the most important land crossing point between Canada and the US – the Ambassador Bridge which connects the Canadian city of Windsor with Detroit – entered its fourth day on Thursday and is cutting off the supply of parts to factories that General Motors, Ford, Stellantis and Toyota have on both sides of the border.

The bridge, over which $400 million in merchandise is shipped each day – one-third of bilateral daily commerce – and tens of thousands of people pass, is the main economic connection between the two trade partners and is vital for supplying the automotive, industrial and agricultural sectors.

Ford spokesman Said Deep, as cited by local media, said Thursday that the company had reduced production at its Oakville and Windsor plants, both in Canada, due to the bridge blockade by truckers protesting Covid vaccination mandates for drivers who cross the border.

Meanwhile, GM canceled two shifts on Wednesday evening and another on Thursday at its Lansing, Michigan, assembly plant due to problems with the timely supply of parts, and Stellantis has also had to suspend various shifts this week.

According to media reports, Toyota spokesman Scott Vazin said that the bridge blockade will prevent three of its plants in Canada from operating for the rest of this week.

Given this situation, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, on Thursday asked Canada to reopen traffic on the Ambassador Bridge, since the blockade is harming her state’s economy.

In a statement, Whitmer emphasized that the paralysis of traffic on the bridge is having a “significant impact” on Michigan workers and the automotive, manufacturing and agricultural sectors are feeling the effects.

The closure of the bridge is forcing trucks and other vehicles to use other crossing points several hours away from Windsor.

A large portion of the traffic is being diverted to the Blue Water Bridge in the Canadian city of Sarnia, but trucks are backing up there in lines of up to 12 hours in both directions.

In the western Canadian province of Alberta, truckers opposed to vaccine requirements have been intermittently blocking for almost two weeks the Coutts border crossing point, which is vital for the shipment of cattle and meat products, and through which some $44 million worth of products pass each day.

The truckers’ protest is causing delays of up to seven hours at the Coutts crossing point, while in Manitoba, in central Canada, a similar protest, which agricultural workers and farmers have joined, has been blocking the Emerson border crossing point since early on Thursday.

The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters association on Thursday demanded in a statement that Canadian authorities “immediately” put an end to the blockades of the country’s main trade corridors.

According to figures from that organization, 80 percent of Manitoba’s exports – which mainly consist of grains – to the US and Mexico are transported by road.

The size of the protests is causing consternation among the majority of truckers and business groups.

The main organizations representing Canadian truckers have said that 90 percent of their members are vaccinated against Covid, adding that the mandate in Canada and the US for transnational commercial truckers to be immunized against the disease is not a problem for the sector at large.

The conflict erupted on Jan. 29 when the so-called “Freedom Convoy,” made up of truckers opposed to getting vaccinated, flooded into Ottawa with some 3,000 trucks and between 10,000 and 15,000 demonstrators.

Since then, more than 400 trucks and hundreds of people have been blocking the streets around Parliament without the authorities being able to dislodge them from downtown Ottawa, despite their repeated calls for them to abandon their protest.

The demonstrators, who range from people opposed to pandemic restrictions to anti-vaxxers to radical extreme rightist groups, have declared that they will not abandon their occupation of downtown Ottawa until the country’s authorities eliminate all pandemic restrictions.

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