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Truckers convoy to Ottawa in protest of vaccine mandate for cross-border travel

A line of trucks on a snowy road
James Morgan
Freedom Convoy trucks arriving at Herb's Travel Plaza near Vankleek Hill, Ontario on Friday afternoon.

The Canadian capital was the scene of two days of protests against COVID-19 health restrictions. It was started by Canadian truckers who haul goods back and forth across the border with the U-S. They were protesting against a measure that requires them to be fully vaccinated. But the weekend rally also became a focal point for a host of pandemic grievances.

Much of anger and criticism was directed at prime minister Justin Trudeau, for lack of a more specific target, and came on the weekend before the Canadian parliament resumes after the Christmas break. But Trudeau, who is isolating after being exposed to COVID-19, was moved to an undisclosed location for security reasons. Especially after experts had said that online conversations around the protest were veering off into what they described as dangerous territory.

This protest began a week ago, as big rig convoys began heading to Ottawa from the east and west coasts. They gathered more truckers and their supporters along the way.

Tamara Lich of Alberta is one of the organizers.

“There’s so many people here that are working so hard behind the scenes, you have no idea," she said. "Teams in every province. We have co-o0rdindators working on things, we have admins working on things and we have people trying to answer your messages and we’re getting bombarded.”

Lich said the truckers GoFundMe page has raised more than $8 million to help the thousands of truckers with food, fuel and lodging, as their convoy rolled toward Ottawa.

Mike Millian is the president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada.

“Because 75% are vaccinated, there’s some that aren't in support of the convoy and think people should just get vaccinate. It’s the same as society a bit of a polarizing topic," he said. "Our association agrees with vaccines. But we have stated that we re against and are against vaccine mandate for essential workers like truck drivers.”

The Canadian Truckers Alliance also said it doesn’t support the convoy protests.

“This regulation is not changing so as an industry we must adapt and comply with this mandate. The only way to cross the border in a commercial truck or any other vehicle is to get vaccinate,” said Stephen Laskwoski of the CTA.

People on an overpass waving a Canadian flag at truckers passing on the road below.
James Morgan
Freedom convoy supporters on an overpass at Highway 417 near Vankleek Hill Ontario on Friday.

But in Ottawa over the weekend, as many as 10,000 truckers and their supporters took to the streets downtown, snarling traffic and created gridlock.

One of the complaints about the trucker vaccine mandate is that with fewer truckers, there would be even more pressure on Canada’s already strained supply chain, because as many as 16,000 of the 160,000 truckers would be sidelined.

Dominic Leblanc is Canada’s intergovernmental affairs minister. He said the best way out of the pandemic is through vaccination.

“Every doctor and public health expert will confirm is the best way to get COVID behind us. And that’s the best way to return security and stability to Canada’s supply chain,” he said. "Everybody’s had adequate notice that this policy was coming into effect.”

Bruce Winder is a retail expert in Toronto.

“This is going to throw a major wrench into supply chains in Canada and north America," Winder said. "You know only about 50-60% of U.S. truckers are vaccinated. And in Canada about 10-15% of Canadian truckers aren’t vaccinated, so it’s going definitely slow down the supply chain."

For the most part, the protests were peaceful. There were several isolated incidents, where criminal investigations have now been launched, such as the desecration to some monuments in the capital, as well as the intimidation of of city workers. And staff and volunteers at a homeless shelter faced harassment from some protestors looking for food.

Police were brought in from other cities even as far away as Toronto to bolster security. The crowds, however, were smaller on Sunday and protest organizers said more demonstrations are planned for Monday. At least one protester said he’s prepared to stay in Ottawa for a month.

But several government ministers have said over the past week, the vaccination requirement for truckers who cross the border will stand and Canadian truckers will have to quarantine if they are unvaccinated. Foreign truckers will be denied entry.