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The Ontario government has signed off on legislation that should ensure provincial border crossings and airports remain open for business and eliminates potential disruptions such as the recent week-long blockade of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor.

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The Keeping Ontario Open for Business Act includes several measures to assist police in quickly ending potential blockades and stiffens penalties for anyone who participates.

The provincial government and Premier Doug Ford introduced similar temporary emergency measures that helped in mid-February to end the bridge blockade on Huron Church Road, but permanent legislation is now officially in place.

“The passage of this legislation shows the world that Ontario is open for business and will stay open for business,” Ford said. “International trade is a vital lifeline for our economy which is why we took action to protect our borders from future illegal disruptions so people can keep working, goods can keep moving and businesses can keep producing.”

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This will definitely help

Among actions included in the new legislation are powers for police to remove, maintain possession of any objects, including vehicles, for 30 days. Penalties for participants who attempt to block border crossings or travel at airports can include up to one-year imprisonment and a fine of $100,000 for any individual.

Traffic flows south on Huron Church Road as vehicles exit the Ambassador Bridge on Thursday, April 21, 2022.
Traffic flows south on Huron Church Road as vehicles exit the Ambassador Bridge on Thursday, April 21, 2022. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Directors of corporations involved can face up to $500,000 in fines and up to one year imprisonment, while corporations could be hit up to $10 million in fines.

“This will definitely help,” said Rakesh Naidu, CEO for the Windsor-Essex chamber. “It will act as deterrent for repeating the mistakes of the past. We did need to have this in place. It was needed to send a strong message that it will not be tolerated putting our economy at risk.”

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It has been estimated economic damage caused by participants of the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge equated to somewhere between $330 million to $350 million per day, he said.

“This legislation is a strong message,” Naidu said. “People will know now there are consequences and you will have to pay. It is a good step that not only will give confidence to our local businesses, but also send a message internationally we won’t tolerate these actions that happened in the past.”

The Ambassador Bridge normally handles up to 8,000 trucks per day, but in February trucks carrying goods utilizing the crossing ground to a halt when several dozen protesters — along with a variety of vehicles — settled in on Huron Church Road, blocking access and exits at the bridge.

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The protest actions forced the temporary closure or shutdowns at several regional auto plants and parts makers, along with economically damaging several other industries.

Protesters, who are mostly not part of the original blockade, mingle freely up and down Huron Church Road late in the afternoon after police cleared a portion of the Ambassador Bridge blockade, on Saturday, February 12, 2022.
Protesters, who are mostly not part of the original blockade, mingle freely up and down Huron Church Road late in the afternoon after police cleared a portion of the Ambassador Bridge blockade, on Saturday, February 12, 2022. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

It was only after the City of Windsor and associations representing the auto industry obtained court injunctions, a state of emergency was declared by Ford and hundreds of police from several jurisdictions were called in that the blockade was eliminated.

Among participants in court was the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association.

“Efficient and reliable cross-border trade infrastructure is critical to the automotive industry and the tens of thousands of people it employs in Ontario,” said Brian Kingston, the association’s CEO. “We support the Ontario government’s efforts to ensure that international border crossings are protected from future disruptions.”

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The agriculture sector, the lifeblood of the Kingsville and Leamington areas, was also harmed financially by the bridge blockade.

“This legislation is an example of the provincial government working for the people of Ontario,” said George Gilvesy, chairman of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers.

“It recognizes the importance of a fluid supply chain when it comes to fresh, nutritious and affordable vegetables, as well as the importance of a resilient, accessible food supply system.”

The legislation also provides police with the ability to impose roadside suspension of drivers’ licenses or to seize license plates for 14 days when a vehicle is used in an illegal blockade of transportation infrastructure.

Police will also have the ability to cancel or suspend Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration (CVOR) certificates. The suspension would impact not only the vehicle identified as being involved in the protest, but potentially the entire company’s fleet associated with that CVOR holder.

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