Windsor mayor hopeful feds will reimburse policing costs of bridge blockade following report of funding for Ottawa

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News that the federal government will reimburse policing costs associated with the lengthy convoy protest in Ottawa has Windsor’s mayor asking when the border city will be relieved of its nearly $5.7-million bridge blockade burden.

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A report for Monday’s Ottawa Police Services Board meeting stated the federal government will cover the roughly $35-million police response to the “Freedom Convoy” protests this winter.

But Windsor has yet to hear from the federal government about being reimbursed the millions it spent in one week to dismantle the anti-mandate Ambassador Bridge blockade in February, which prevented millions of dollars in trade from crossing the border.

“I’m delighted that the federal government has made Ottawa whole,” Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens told the Star, noting that the Ottawa protests were larger and lasted longer. “My next reaction was, What about us down here?”

In March Dilkens penned a letter to Canada’s deputy prime minister and minister of finance requesting that the federal government reimburse the city approximately $5.7 million, stating, “It would be unreasonable to expect municipal taxpayers to shoulder these costs alone.” So far, the city has received no response.

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“There’s no doubt the federal government understood the importance of the blockade here because they sent everyone down here first to respond and clear up the Ambassador Bridge blockade, simply because it was truly a national economic emergency when the border was closed,” Dilkens said.

Concrete barriers are installed along Huron Church Road after police ended the Ambassador Bridge blockade, on Sunday, February 13, 2022.
Concrete barriers are installed along Huron Church Road after police ended the Ambassador Bridge blockade, on Sunday, February 13, 2022. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Protesters occupied Ottawa for three and a half weeks starting in late January, prompting the Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Ontario Premier Doug Ford to each declare states of emergency. Days before a massive police operation dismantled the massive protest, then Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly resigned after weeks of criticism aimed at his handling of the situation.

During that time, Dilkens declared a state of emergency in Windsor as protesters opposing pandemic-related public health mandates choked off Ambassador Bridge access starting on Feb. 7 and created a party atmosphere from the border’s mouth at College Avenue along Huron Church Road to Tecumseh Road West. Although a court injunction granted on Feb. 11 was intended to end the occupation, protesters remained in place until the next day, when police started arresting those who refused to move.

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A breakdown of estimated costs associated with the Windsor blockade shows policing made up the bulk of expenses, with $2.5 million for overtime, $1.3 million for jersey barriers to block vehicle access along Huron Church Road, $540,000 to feed and another $540,000 to house more than 500 out-of-town officers, and $100,000 for “other miscellaneous.” London Police Service, which sent its specialized public order unit to assist on a contractual basis, dinged Windsor for $130,000.

The City of Windsor spent another $108,000 on public works wages and overtime and equipment costs, while $40,000 went to Transit Windsor, which operated city buses to transport and warm officers. Use of an EMS land ambulance cost $37,000, Windsor Fire and Rescue Services cost $25,000, and legal fees were $250,000.

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Parks and facilities incurred $15,000 in costs, and community support ranged up $80,000.

Ottawa’s roughly $35 million in expenses includes salaries, vehicle expenses, operation supplies, and food and hotel accommodations for out-of-town officers, as well as money for the RCMP deployment.

The report before the Ottawa police board Monday said the board has been informed by the federal government that it will receive additional funding through its National Capital Extraordinary Policing Costs program to offset all costs incurred by the OPS due to the occupation.”

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Instead of pressing the federal government to cover Windsor’s blockade costs, Dilkens said he would prefer to focus his energy on attracting business to Windsor and improving the quality of life for residents. But if the federal government does not respond to Windsor’s request for reimbursement, “I’ll start spending time beating the drum and shining the spotlight on the fact that the City of Windsor was left behind.

“I’ve done it a number of times. I prefer not to have to do that,” Dilkens said. “Hopefully the right thing is done out of the gate here like they have done with the City of Ottawa.”

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