Ontario to make some emergency tools permanent to stop illegal blockades

Weeks after protesters blocked the Ambassador Bridge disrupted an international border crossing in Windsor, Ont., the provincial government is introducing new legislation to better protect the flow of traffic and trade across international border crossings from a repeat of what happened in February.

The proposed Keeping Ontario Open for Business Act, 2022, would give law enforcement more tools at the ready, without needing to invoke a provincial emergency — something the province did last month to respond to the protests.

“We can’t afford the economic impacts that we saw as a result of recent blockades and occupations in Windsor and Ottawa,” said Attorney General Doug Downey. “This is why we are taking action to provide new tools to support the important work of police and prosecutors to hold offenders accountable and to ensure your justice is done.”

The legislation, being introduced on Monday, would let police officers suspend drivers’ licenses and vehicle permits, sixteen license plates of those involved in an illegal blockade as well as remove and store other objects contributing to a blockade.

It also includes a nearly $96 million investment to: establish a permanent Emergency Response Team for the Ontario Provincial Police, enhance training at the Ontario Police College with a focus on effective public order policing and to purchase heavy equipment such as tow trucks.

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones says the act is narrow in scope and will not impede Ontarians’ ability to peacefully protest.

Economic impacts of illegal protests

Approximately $17 million dollars in goods crosses over the Ambassador Bridge hourly, making up to 25 per cent of all Canada-US trade, Jones said at at a news conference Monday. When car parts didn’t move across the border, Ontario auto workers lost work because they didn’t have the parts they needed to do their jobs, she added.

It also eroded trust in Ontario’s reputation as a reliable place to invest, Jones said — trust the government is now working to rebuild, including through a trip Premier Doug Ford is on to Washington.

Opposition leaders say some costs faced by the communities most affected by the recent illegal protests in Windsor and in Ottawa ought to be borne by the province.

Liberal House Leader John Fraser says a trip to Washington won’t rebuild the level of trust lost. He also says acknowledging the high costs of the protests without committing to help communities who shouldered these costs is unfair.

Ottawa faces a $36 million dollar policing bill. Police officers are seen working to clear the illegal protest in Ottawa on February 19, 2022. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

“The reality is there’s a $36-million policing bill in Ottawa…that this government has some responsibility for, and the government will not commit to that,” said Fraser, the MPP for Ottawa South. Ottawa taxpayers shouldn’t be facing that cost alone, he said.

The City of Windsor has indicated it cost the city $5.7 million to respond to the February blockade, primarily due to policing costs incurred. The city has sent a letter to the provincial and federal governments requesting reimbursement.

Fraser says the government already had many of the tools proposed in the proposed legislation.

“You don’t need a piece of legislation to fix what needed to be fixed, which is to restore law in order in downtown Ottawa, in a timely fashion in a week,” he said.

Asked for her reaction, NDP leader Andrea Horwath said she didn’t want to comment on the bill before it was presented, but that the government should have acted sooner in response to the two illegal protests and thing not to do so.

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