Truckers from across the country have been heading east through Manitoba today (January 25th) as part of a large convoy headed for Ottawa in protest of vaccine mandates.
Freedom Convoy 2022 was organized as a way for trucking companies, truck drivers and Canadians to take a position against mandatory vaccines for truck drivers. As of January 15th, Canada requires truck drivers to be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a 14 day quarantine before crossing into our country. The United States has also implemented similar rules. The convoy started on January 22nd in British Columbia and is expected to end on January 29th in Ottawa.
The "Freedom Convoy 2022" began on Sunday with routes from all over Canada headed to the nation's capital. The western route that's heading through Manitoba began in B.C. and made its first stop in Brandon around 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, about an hour behind schedule according to organizers.
Kevin Nolt is a Winnipeg-area trucker who was going to join the convoy until his truck broke down. Nolt says he's not necessarily ant-vax, but worries about people's right to choose, and about the thousands of drivers who will be out of work now that they cannot drive across the border freely.
"Not only that, but that will have a big impact on the supply chain," Nolt says. "There's a shortage of truckers as there is on both sides of the line." He doesn't believe truckers, who spend most of their time alone, should be mandated.
In Brandon, hundreds of people lined up on service roads near the Trans-Canada Highway as the convoy rolled through. Marilyn Ostash was there with friends and family, and called it a "great day." She says it took around one hour and 15 minutes for the entire convoy to travel by.
(Photo supplied) Marilyn Ostash and friends waiting for the convoy in Brandon, Man.
On the weekend the Canadian Trucking Alliance released a statement in opposition to the convoy. "The Canadian Trucking Alliance does not support and strongly disapproves of any protests on public roadways, highways, and bridges," the statement says. "CTA believes such actions – especially those that interfere with public safety – are not how disagreements with government policies should be expressed."
Organizers of the convoy responded in a video. “We’re not backing down and we are going to Ottawa,” Tamara Lich, a protest organizer from Medicine Hat, Alta., stated in a Facebook Live video posted on Sunday.
Organizers describe the vaccine mandate as an example of political overreach resulting in economic harm, arguing the policy hurts small businesses, and denies some workers the means to survive. They also say they are not protesting the vaccine mandates for truckers, but all mandates and lockdowns linked to the pandemic response.
Nolt says that truckers have worked through tough conditions the last two years to support the country. "When it first started, it was hard to drive, hard to do your job. A lot of times we couldn't even use the washrooms in places." He says there were plenty of times he couldn't find food on the road, or would have to walk through restaurant drive-thrus.
"There are not many (trucking) jobs where it's just Canada only," he says, explaining many drivers cross the international border multiple times a week.
On Monday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shot back against Conservatives who were condemning the mandates. Trudeau says almost 90 per cent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated, speaking on Monday to reporters. The Prime Minister made the comments after Alberta Premier Jason Kenney shared photos of empty grocery store shelves.
“I regret that the Conservative Party and Conservative politicians are in the process of stoking Canadians’ fears about the supply chain. The reality is that vaccination is how we’ll get through this.”
Conservative party leader Erin O'Toole, however, says “At every occasion, I encourage truckers to get vaccinated. That’s the best way to keep supplies flowing."
Some 30,000 trucks roll across the border each day hauling nearly $850 million in freight, according to 2020 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
The CTA says that anywhere between 12,000 and 16,000 Canadian drivers could be sidelined by the mandate.
After a stop in Headingly Tuesday afternoon, the convoy is headed for Kenora, Ont. where it will stop for the evening.
Const. Tara Seel, with Manitoba RCMP says her office has, so far, heard no reports of issues involving traffic congestion. However, that is expected to change as the trucks get closer to Winnipeg.
For that reason, she is asking that if motorists can avoid the Headingly area between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m., or possibly later due to delays in the convoy, to please do so. She has a similar request for people east of Winnipeg when the convoy rolls past the Centre of Canada Park at the junction Highway 1 and Provincial Road 206 at approximately 4:30 pm.
"Anyone that's planning on being on the south perimeter, and the Trans-Canada Highway east of the City of Winnipeg, just again be aware that there is going to be a large increase in the amount of traffic and if you can find an alternate route that might be advisable to save yourself some time."
Seel says at this point there are no plans to barricade any roads or intersections. However, due to the number of vehicles that make up this convoy and the great distance the convoy spans, she says it is entirely possible motorists might wait 30 to 45 minutes at some intersections before being able to safely cross the highway.
For those motorists who are part of the convoy, Seel asks them to pay attention to the police officers on scene, noting they are trying to assist in the smooth movement of traffic.
"The officers aren't there to impede anybody at all or stop anyone from having their say," says Seel. "We just want to make sure, again, the roadways are safe for everyone using them."
Organizers say convoys from all directions are hoping to reach Ottawa on January 29th.