A police raid has finally put an end to the costly bridge blockade at Windsor, Ontario. But with protests in Ottawa still going strong, is the anti-vaccine mandate movement really over?
This was the moment the protesters had dreaded.
“I was hoping it wasn’t going to end like this, I was hoping the police would allow us to continue to peacefully protest,” Tyler Kok told the BBC as he left the site.
The officers arrived by the bus load on Sunday morning – in balaclavas and carrying long guns, ready to oust the last few protesters blocking the roads leading to the Ambassador Bridge.
A week-long stalemate was about to come to an end.
About 100 vehicles had been parked along a 2km (1.25 miles) stretch of the road for days on end.
There were pickups, SUVs and even a dog-grooming van, festooned with Canadian flags, anti-vaccination slogans and anti-Trudeau epithets, as well as some heavy commercial trucks.
The people were a mix of evangelical Christians, anti-mask mums, vaccine sceptics and local residents who are tired of lockdowns and vaccine passports.
The Freedom Convoy, as it’s been called, began as a protest against a mandate requiring truckers who cross the US-Canada border to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
But the group is not united by any one occupation – rather, they share a distrust of vaccines, a concern for government overreach and a general dislike of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Similar blockades have also popped up at other border crossings across the country – four people were arrested at one in British Columbia on Sunday.
But the biggest one in Windsor is no more. The police began stage one of their clearance operation on Saturday and only a few dozen remained by Sunday morning after a bitterly cold night.
That meant police could make their final and decisive move. Dozens of officers descended on the two remaining encampments located about a kilometre apart on the single road leading to the bridge.
They erected cement barricades and flanked them on all sides.
But while in France officers had fired tear gas to keep similar protests at bay, Windsor Police said they prioritised safety over speed.
A court-ordered injunction had been in place since Friday, but police waited over 36 hours, mindful that there were many children among the demonstrators.
“I think that’s something that speaks to our Canadian society,” Sergeant Steve Betteridge told the BBC.
Police made about 12 arrests but the majority of protesters voluntarily left the area and drove their vehicles home. Clearly outnumbered, they honked their horns – a swan song to the blockade that had gone on far longer than anyone had anticipated.
Canada has a 90 per cent vaccination rate, far higher than the United States, and in many parts of the country you need to show proof of vaccination to access bars, gyms and restaurants. (BBC)