Warwick councillors denounce 402 protesters as mayor gets credit for bringing demonstration to an end

Heavy equipment was the last vehicles to leave the 402 protest Monday.

‘I hope that those involved in those occupations are held accountable to the full extent of the law:’ White

Mayor Jackie Rombouts visited friends John and Teresa Lammers at the Ottawa protest voicing her support for the demonstration which started Jan. 28.

Warwick councillors are denouncing a protest which blocked Highway 402 and turned the township’s roads into a transport route. This as their mayor voiced support for the protest and is getting credit for bringing the 402 blockade to an end.

About 25 farm vehicles – everything from tractors to heavy equipment and pickup trucks – had been parked on the westbound side near the 402 since Feb. 9. They were using a farmer’s field as a campsite, inviting supporters to come by each night. By Monday only 16 vehicles remained.

While the protest was peaceful, Lambton County Warden Kevin Marriott says people living along the emergency route, where thousands of trucks off the 402 came right past their front door, were angry.

Some complained about the volume of traffic, particularly as children got on the school buses in the morning. Others, Marriott says, were watching their roads break apart from the constant use of the heavy trucks.

“There is major damage to both county roads and lower municipality roads,” he says noting both London Line and Zion Line in Warwick are showing noticeable signs of damage. “It’s really happening quickly now apparently because of the traffic; the roads just aren’t built like the 402 to handle weight and truck after truck after truck.”

The traffic was particularly heavy when Windsor’s Ambassador Bridge was closed because of a similar protest. It was reopened late Sunday after seven days.

Rombouts supported the protests which calls for the end to all COVID-19 mandates. The protests are organized by Canada Unity, a group calling for the removal of the present government without an election.

But Marriott says Rombouts made calls to the protest leaders which led to the tractors leaving the highway around 3 pm yesterday.

Rombouts declined an interview but in a text said “I believe that if the provincial and federal governments would take the time to listen to the people, instead of calling them names and saying they hold unacceptable views, all of this could have been avoided.”

In an online post, one of the organizers, David Buurma of Petrolia, said there were a number of factors to leaving the highway including that people in the area were concerned about the amount of truck traffic.

Buurma also cited his own personal schedule as one of the reasons the protest shutdown.

“I hope to be in USA again here in a few days. And again, what’s happening in America is that they’re wide open. Farm shows are going on. …no masks, no vaccine passports, no nothing. Why is that? Because the vaccine, the passport is a joke. COVID is a joke. It’s gone. It’s moved on.”

And while the trucks are no longer on the highway, Buurma said “the party” in the bush beside the highway will continue. Protesters had been using a sympathetic farmer’s field as a campsite at the 402 exit. Supporters were invited to come hang out and, at times, fireworks and music could be heard.

Buurma added “about 50” tractors and farm vehicles were parked in a field near the highway on Forest Road, should they ever need to step up and support the protesters in Ottawa again.

While Warwick’s mayor was credited for getting protesters to move on, Rombouts was alone in her support of the 402 protest as Warwick councillors roundly denounced the protest at a council meeting just three hours after the tractors went home.

All said they had heard from large numbers of residents frustrated by the protest, the congestion it created, the damage it did to the roads in the community and concerns about the mayor backing the protesters.

“I want to say as a councillor, I denounce all occupations in Ottawa, at all of our border crossings and our own portal, too,” said Councillor Todd White.

“I do commend our local law enforcement for keeping it safe, keeping our border open, and not allowing the occupation to snarled traffic, and to allow trade to continue. And I do want to shout out to the real heroes that are still working out there are health care workers that are still battling COVID.

“I don’t understand why people don’t see that there are that’s still a concern. And I hope that those involved in those occupations are held accountable to the full extent of the law,” White said.

Councillor Colin Mitchell suggested the protesters did not speak for the community. “Civil disobedience in our community has a place but it also has consequences. Having all of those points brought forward I think is important. You know, our community deserves to feel safe and feel represented on on all accounts.”

Deputy Mayor Jerry Westgate says if the protesters disrupt traffic in the community again, council should be meeting to deal with the issue. “I didn’t mind one day, but when it goes in to the weeks and the amount of money that was spent, that’s way too long to be breaking the law,” he says.

“Parking a tractor on the highway is breaking the law. It’s okay to make a point but not to break the law for so long, because it costs you so much money.”

Councillor Wayne Morris has heard from taxpayers concerned they’re going to get stuck with the bill for the protest. “Is this going to cost us as a taxpayer, as a township? … Or is this spread across the province? There must have been a lot of overtime pay.”

Treasurer Trevor Jarrett says some of the bill will likely come back to the municipality in policing costs. “It’s going to be allocated based on region. And it will be spread amongst other municipalities in our region. So yes, it’s going to cost,” he said adding it will be some time before he knows exactly how much.

Rombouts, who spoke publicly about her support for the protesters leaving councillors to remind residents the mayor was not speaking for all of council, apologized after each member of council had their say.

“I apologize if anything that I have done in the last week has impacted our council or staff or municipality,” she said suggesting her views helped resolve the crisis.

“I do believe that I would not have even gotten my phone call answer had I not been understanding and empathetic to what’s happening around our country,” Rombouts said.

“And I believe that we need to work really hard to try to find a bridge to this divide in our community, in our families, and in our homes. So, we’re all going to work together. I know this council has always worked well together. We’re going to move forward from here.

“We all have our own ways of leading and we’re doing the best we can.”

Councillor White added; “I just think it is poor when politicians try to use it for their own political gain.”

So far, OPP officials say no charges were laid before the people left the area. Const. Jill Johnson says the investigation is continuing.

This same group of protesters parked about 150 farm vehicles at the Bluewater Bridge Feb. 6 and so far, no charges have been laid in that protest either.