Trudeau promises Biden ‘swift action’ against protesters blocking US-Canada bridge

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WINDSOR, Ontario/OTTAWA/WASHINGTON, Feb 11 (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday “swift action” to enforce the law against protesters who blocked a key U.S. trade corridor and damaged auto production in both countries, the White House said.

Truckers angered by coronavirus mandates began occupying Canada’s capital last month before cramming dozens of vehicles on Monday near Ontario’s Ambassador Bridge, North America’s busiest land border crossing and a choke point for Detroit automakers.

Authorities divert freight to stem losses after cuts by Ford Motor Co (FN), General Motors Co (GM.N), parent Chrysler Stellantis (STLA.MI) and Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) .

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The Canadian province of Ontario declared a state of emergency on Friday and threatened protesters with fines and imprisonment if they did not leave.

Following earlier calls for action from U.S. officials and business leaders, Biden voiced concerns about factory closures and production slowdowns during the phone call with Trudeau, the White House said in a statement. a statement.

“Both leaders agreed that the actions of individuals who impede travel and trade between our two countries have significant direct impacts on the lives and livelihoods of citizens,” the statement said.

“The Prime Minister has promised to act quickly to enforce the law, and the President has thanked him for the steps he and other Canadian authorities are taking to restore the open passage of bridges to the United States,” said he added.

Trudeau told reporters he agreed with Biden that the blockades cannot continue and that Canadian banks were monitoring financial activity related to protest funding and taking action.

The “Freedom Convoy” protest, launched by Canadian truckers opposed to a vaccination or quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, is also occupying areas outside government buildings in the capital Ottawa and has blocked two small US crossings.

The protest inspired convoys and similar plans in France, New Zealand, Australia and the United States, whose Department of Homeland Security is working to ensure that a planned “freedom convoy” event in early March in Washington, DC, “does not disrupt the legality of commerce.” Read more

The Biden administration had previously urged Canada to use federal powers to ease the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge, a step Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government failed to take. Trudeau said Friday his government was not considering calling in the military for the protests. Read more

PRISON THREATS, CAR CUTS

The leader of Ontario, where police have avoided using force to disperse protesters, sought pressure on Friday by threatening fines of C$100,000 and up to a year in prison for non-compliance .

Announcing the penalties as part of the emergency measures, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said they were necessary to “make it clear that it is illegal and punishable to block and obstruct the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure”.

Ford said protesters had “attempted to disrupt our way of life by targeting our lifeline for food, fuel and goods across our borders”, and they were “trying to force a political agenda through disruption , intimidation and chaos”.

It was not immediately clear if and when authorities would start issuing fines or seeking prison terms. A Canadian mayor whose town adjoins the bridge on Thursday sought a court injunction to have the protesters evicted.

As car production cuts mount, Ford, the second-largest U.S. automaker, said on Friday it had temporarily halted work at its Ohio assembly plant. He warned in a statement of a widespread impact on all automakers in both countries.

The stock of Canadian auto parts maker Magna International (MG.TO) fell 4.4% on Friday after saying it suffered a first blow following the closure of the bridge. Read more

General Motors and Toyota also announced further production cuts.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, home to nearly a fifth of all US auto production, told CNN: “The Canadian government must do whatever it takes to resolve this problem safely and quickly.”

Trudeau says he is working with city leaders to end the blockade. Its Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Dominic LeBlanc, said Canada was “very engaged” with its American partners during the crisis.

“Just because someone disagrees with a particular public health measure doesn’t mean they have the right to harm hundreds of millions of dollars of cross-border trade, or create huge disruption and abuse on the streets of the nation’s capital,” LeBlanc said. journalists.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said federal police have deployed additional units to Ottawa, where officers have made 25 arrests so far. Mendicino was scheduled to speak with US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Friday, his office said.

($1 = 1.2737 Canadian dollars)

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Reporting by Ismail Shakil, Kanishka Singh, Shivansh Tiwary in Bengaluru, Steven Scherer in Ottawa, Anna Mehler-Paperny in Toronto and Doina Chiacu and David Shepardson in Washington; Written by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Karishma Singh and Mark Porter

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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