Biden, Trudeau talk convoys as U.S. braces for Canadian-style protests

Trudeau said he and Biden discussed how the Canadian demonstrations are linked to global frustration with the pandemic itself, Covid-19 restrictions and the governments that imposed the public health measures.

The call came as Canadian authorities struggle to contain “freedom convoy” demonstrations that began last month to protest vaccine mandates for truckers at the border. The movement has evolved into a heavily funded, highly coordinated effort to end all Covid-19 restrictions amid calls to bring down Canada’s political establishment.

The protesters say they won’t budge until all Covid restrictions have all been removed and, for some, until Trudeau resigns.

But the participation of figures connected to right-wing extremism has amped up fears about violence if authorities were to move in on the protests with force. An Ontario court granted an injunction Friday evening that opens the door for police to move protesters from the foot of the Ambassador Bridge.

“I’m disappointed that it had to come to this,” Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said in a statement about the injunction that gave demonstrators until 7 p.m. EST on Friday to leave.

Meanwhile, the Canadian protesters are encouraging copycat anti-government campaigns around the globe.

U.S. authorities are bracing for an American version of the movement that could launch as early as this weekend and disrupt the Super Bowl.

Trudeau warned that some involved in the movement — in Canada, the U.S. and beyond — are trying to “undermine the confidence that people have in their institutions, in their democracies, in their fellow citizens.”

“[Biden] expressed concern not just for the impacts right now, but the indication that there is international support from the United States and from elsewhere around the world for these protests,” Trudeau said. “We see a mobilization of some of the more-challenging political elements in Canada, and in the United States, around support for these blockades.”

Trudeau added that around 50 percent of the funds flowing to the convoy organizers through some online platforms have come from U.S. donors. The movement has quickly raised millions of dollars.

“In terms of the presence of Americans in our protests, I can assure you that our police services are monitoring carefully and watching and coordinating with partner agencies around the world,” he said without elaborating.

The prime minister also said officials in Canada are considering offers from the U.S. side to help with the protests, but he declined to get into specifics.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office offered to do whatever is required this week, including sending over heavy equipment, to remove vehicles. A senior Canadian government official told POLITICO on Friday that Trudeau and Biden discussed the possibility that American tow trucks could be sent to remove some of the protesters’ vehicles.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Trudeau spoke to Biden about demonstrations in Toronto and Quebec City, where authorities have prevented the rallies from becoming Ottawa-style occupations. The official said the U.S. president acknowledged the demonstrations are a shared problem between the countries.

On Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden used the call to tell Trudeau he’s concerned about the U.S. companies and workers experiencing “serious effects” from the border obstructions, including slowdowns in production, shortened work hours and plant closures.

“The prime minister promised quick action in enforcing the law and the president thanked him for the steps he and other Canadian authorities are taking to restore the open passage of bridges to the United States,” Psaki said.

Local police forces and political leaders at different levels of government in Canada have been under intensifying pressure to end the barricades amid public concerns the protests have dragged on for too long.

But it wasn’t until protesters impeded the flow of traffic on the Ambassador Bridge — over which passes a quarter of all goods traded between the two countries — that Canadian lawmakers started to take more forceful action.

On Thursday, the Biden White House started leaning on Canadian authorities to move swiftly to end the border blockade, which has also forced factories to cancel shifts in both countries and affected thousands of workers.

By Friday morning, Ontario Premier Doug Ford had declared a state of emergency. Ford said his Cabinet will enact orders making it illegal to block and impede the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure. The punishments include fines as high as C$100,000 and up to a year in prison.

Kelly Hooper contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.

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