What started out as a trucker protest of a cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandate in Canada escalated into much more, prompting criticism from government officials and trucking groups.
Over the weekend, the “Freedom Convoy” rolled into Ottawa, the Canadian capital, in protest of bilateral rules between Canada and the U.S. that went into effect last month barring travelers who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 from crossing the border. Previous restrictions had exempted essential workers such as truck drivers.
Thousands of people flocked to Parliament Hill amid the sounds of blaring horns and chants of “freedom!” reported Truck News – but the large Saturday crowd wasn’t all truck drivers.
Canadian flags and signs touting anti-vaccine and anti-health restriction messages were joined by swastikas, confederate flags, and “Don’t Tread on Me” signs. Canadian monuments were desecrated. A soup kitchen said staff members were “harassed for meals” and others were verbally assaulted with racial slurs. Some residents reported being challenged on wearing masks by protesters and being assaulted while walking in their neighborhoods, according to news reports.
Trudeau to #Truckers: 'Behavior on display this weekend does not represent you.' https://t.co/0d7dOgVUHk #FreedomConvoy2022 #VaccineMandate @JustinTrudeau #canpoli @CanTruck @privatefleets @WTFC7 pic.twitter.com/9bBqFWDKEH— @todaystrucking (@Todaystrucking) January 31, 2022
Many truckers believe the protest will pressure national and provincial to repeal health restrictions, not just the border-crossing rules.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance denounced the convoy. “The only way to cross the border, in a commercial truck or any other vehicle, is to get vaccinated,” the group said in a statement. “As an industry we must adapt and comply with this mandate and the vast majority have,” said CTA President Stephen Laskowski.
The Private Motor Truck Council of Canada also had strong words for protesters.
“While the PMTC does not support vaccine mandates for truck drivers and have and will continue to lobby government to reconsider, we do not support the actions that have been taken in recent days to try to change them.”
PMTC President Mike Millian said of protesters desecrating monuments and displaying hate symbols, “These individuals do not represent the trucking industry or Canadians. They should be ashamed of themselves.”
In fact, the fundraisers behind the “Freedom Convoy” were not truckers, but far-right, anti-government separatists reported Truck News’ James Menzies.
PMTC's Millian wrote in a post on Truck News, “although for the most part, this turned into more of a protest then it did a convoy, many in the public will still associate these actions with truckers. That is a shame, as many I have spoken with who were on the ground indicated passenger cars outnumbered trucks by a margin of at least 4:1, and the majority of the truckers there were peaceful, polite and respectful.”
In a Feb. 2 news release, the organizer of the Freedom Convoy said they plan to remain in Ottawa "for as long as it takes for governments across Canada to end all mandates associated with COVID-19."
Organizers said they were "dismayed by the extreme and divisive rhetoric used by politicians — especially Justin Trudeau — who have characterized protesters as racists, and even terrorists."
More protesters at the border
Protests weren't limited to Ottawa. At the Coutts border crossing in Alberta, a convoy of semi-trucks, four-wheelers and farm equipment parked on Highway 4 in support of the convoy blocked non-protesting truckers from getting their loads across the border.
The Canadian Meat Council on Monday said there were more than 150 loads of Canadian beef stuck there. Owner-operator Lovepreet Singh was stuck at the Sweet Grass port of entry in Montana for two days. He was seen in a video on social media pleading for help from Canadian authorities and lawmakers to help drivers stuck at the border to get through with their loads.
After four days, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police started removing the blockade of protesters and vehicles, according to another Truck News report.
“What may have begun as a peaceful assembly quickly turned into an unlawful blockade,” RCMP said in a release. “We have been engaged with protesters at the Coutts border crossing in an effort to find a peaceful and safe resolution for all involved. We thought we had a path to resolution, the protesters eventually chose not to comply.”
Updated 1/2/2022, 3 p.m. EST, to add comments form the Freedom Convoy.