U.S. urges Canada to use federal powers to ease border protest disruption

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  • U.S. and Canada working on alternative land, sea and air routes
  • Windsor mayor says he wants to resolve issue peacefully
  • Disruptions force automakers to reduce operations

WINDSOR, Ontario/WASHINGTON, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Canada should use federal powers to ease the growing economic disruption caused by the blockage of a vital U.S.-Canada trade route by protesters opposed to coronavirus mandates, U.S. President Joe Biden's administration said on Thursday.

The closure of the Ambassador Bridge, North America's busiest international land border crossing and a vital supply route for Detroit's carmakers, has halted some auto output and left officials scrambling to limit economic damage.

Canadian truckers started their protests as a "Freedom Convoy" occupying Ottawa, the capital, to demonstrate opposition to a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers mirrored by the U.S. government.

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They began blocking the Ambassador Bridge on Monday and have since shut two smaller border crossings in Alberta and Manitoba provinces.

As many pandemic-weary Western countries near the two-year mark on coronavirus restrictions, copycat protests have spread to Australia, New Zealand and France, although the wave of infections caused by the highly infectious Omicron variant has begun to subside in some places.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Thursday urged their Canadian counterparts "to use federal powers to resolve this situation at our joint border," a White House official said.

"U.S. and Canadian border and customs authorities are working with great urgency to ensure the continued flow of goods and services across our international border, leveraging alternative land routes, as well as air and sea options."

Canadian federal ministers have called the blockade illegal and asked protesters to return home.

In a tweet on Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he had spoken to Drew Dilkens, the mayor of Windsor, Ontario, which borders Detroit, and said the federal government was ready to help Windsor and the province get the situation under control.

"It is causing real harm to workers and economies on both sides of the border," he said.

Police near the Ambassador Bridge have begun receiving additional manpower, Dilkens told CNN earlier.

"(If) the protesters don't leave, there will have to be a path forward. If that means physically removing them, that means physically removing them, and we're prepared to do that," he said.

Dilkens later said Windsor was seeking a court injunction to have the protesters removed, adding he was striving to resolve the issue peacefully.

"(While) it may be gratifying for someone to see the forced removal of the demonstrators, such action may inflame the situation and certainly cause more folks to come here and add to the protest, and we don't want to risk additional conflict," he said.

DIVERTING CARGO

With traffic at times shut in both directions, General Motors Co (GM.N) and Chrysler-parent Stellantis (STLA.MI) said they had to cancel or reduce shifts because of parts shortages, tacking on to earlier production cuts announced by Ford Motor Co (F.N) and Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T).

Toyota said it was suspending production through Saturday at its plants in Ontario and Kentucky, affecting manufacturing of the Camry, RAV4 and other popular models. read more

Ford is looking at flying in some auto parts to a plant in Windsor that produces engines for popular models, a union official said. read more

An Ontario court on Thursday froze funds donated to anti-vaccine protesters through the app GiveSendGo. The convoy group had raised more than $8 million as of late Thursday afternoon, the Boston-based company said.

Protesters began gathering with their vehicles in Ottawa nearly two weeks ago and have occupied the main downtown street that runs by parliament, the Bank of Canada and the prime minister's office.

MORE U.S DISRUPTION TO COME?

More than two-thirds of the $511 billion in goods traded annually between Canada and the United States is transported by road. The Detroit International Bridge Company, which owns the Ambassador Bridge, urged Canada to end the protest by repealing the vaccine mandate or remove the vehicles so trade can resume.

A third option was to do "nothing and hope this ends on its own: an option that will most likely prolong the blockade, further crippling our economy and putting more jobs at risk," the company's chairman, Matt Moroun, said in a statement.

Seeking to show support for the Canadian protesters, some U.S. truckers said they will send two convoys this weekend to a fourth border crossing that connects Buffalo, New York, and Fort Erie, Ontario.

The United States is adding staff to its command post at the National Football League's Super Bowl in Los Angeles in response to reports of a convoy that could cause disruptions at Sunday's game, the White House official said.

The official said the Department of Homeland Security was making preparations to ensure that a 'Freedom Convoy' event in Washington, D.C., due in early March "does not disrupt lawful trade and transportation or interfere with federal government and law enforcement operations and emergency services."

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Additional reporting by David Shepardson, Chris Gallagher and Tim Ahmann in Washington, Rod Nickel in Manitoba, Julie Gordon in Ottawa and Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Writing by Rami Ayyub and Costas Pitas; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Richard Chang, Leslie Adler & Simon Cameron-Moore

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