The busiest border crossing between Canada and the United States was still partially blocked Wednesday as a major protest against Covid-19 rules spread beyond Ottawa, the Canadian capital, where it has caused havoc for nearly two weeks.
Dubbed the “Freedom Convoy,” the demonstration has brought chaos to Ottawa since late last month. But this week, as Canadian officials expressed growing dismay at the disruption, it threatened to spread well beyond the country’s borders.
The prospect of an economic impact in the United States came after the truckers won support from Republican politicians, including former President Donald Trump, and as similar convoys protesting coronavirus regulations emerged in Europe and elsewhere.
Aerial footage showed Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor and carries around 27 percent of all trade between the U.S. and Canada, congested with trucks backed up along the crossing Tuesday. It is unclear how many of those trucks were participating in the demonstration and how many had simply been blocked from moving forward.
Police had asked drivers to avoid the area, which has seen traffic clogged by protesters since Monday. U.S.-bound lanes reopened Tuesday, but as of early Wednesday morning lanes going into Canada remained partially closed, according to the Canada Border Services Agency’s website.
Canadian officials have warned of the potential for economic fallout, with Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino calling the bridge “one of the most important border crossings in the world.”
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a news briefing it was “clear these disruptions have broadened in scope beyond the vaccine requirement implementation.”
“We are, of course, in touch with our Canadian counterparts” on the blockade, she said.
The blockade is the latest development in a saga that has seen hundreds of truckers converge on Canada’s capital, blocking city streets, blaring their horns and disrupting daily life in the Canadian capital.
The Ottawa Police Service announced Tuesday that at least 23 people had been arrested in connection with “unlawful demonstrations” related to the trucker protest. They said a total of at least 85 investigations had been opened into the demonstration, including alleged hate crimes, property damage and theft.
Police have also issued tickets and sought to cut off truckers’ access to fuel as part of a crackdown to end the protest.
The demonstration initially began in opposition to vaccination mandates for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border, but its focus quickly shifted to broader issues with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government and coronavirus measures imposed across the country.
Pandemic restrictions enforced in parts of Canada have been far stricter than in the U.S., but Canadians have largely backed the measures. Some provinces, including Saskatchewan, Quebec and Alberta, are moving to lift Covid measures.
Trudeau has denounced protesters’ tactics, saying the chaos “has to stop” during an emergency debate in Parliament on Monday night.
Mendicino, the public safety minister, said: “Most Canadians understand there is a difference between being tired and fatigued with the pandemic and crossing into some other universe.”
In recent days the protest movement appears to have spread well beyond Canada’s borders.
In New Zealand, scores of people protesting vaccine and mask mandates joined a convoy to the capital, Wellington, on Tuesday. A number of demonstrators could also be seen carrying “Trump 2024” flags.
The country has imposed strict restrictions during the course of the pandemic, reporting just 53 deaths from the virus among its population of around 5 million.
As some grow weary of the restrictions, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said the country will end its quarantine requirements for travelers entering the country as it reopens its borders.
In France, a convoy appeared to be making its way from Nice toward Paris to protest coronavirus rules.
Some members of the convoy were also expected to join a protest in Brussels, where organizers have said on social media they expect convoys from across Europe to gather for what they have billed as a major demonstration.
Chantal Da Silva
Chantal Da Silva is a breaking news editor for NBC News Digital based in London.
The Associated Press