Hundreds of B.C. truckers took to the road Sunday kicking off what they called a “freedom convoy” to Ottawa in protest of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers.
Scores of big rigs gathered in pre-dawn fog in Delta before rolling out, and will be joined by groups from Vancouver Island and communities in the B.C. Interior as they make their way east.
Colin Valentim, a truck owner-operator, said he will be helping lead the convoy to Calgary.
“The intent is to go right across the country and try to effect change with the government,” Valentim said.
“The mandates need to end for everybody, because the mandates they have now put into effect is going to affect everybody, not just the truckers.”
The federal government announced in November 2021 that Canadian truckers crossing into the U.S. would need to be vaccinated or face a 14-day quarantine.
The policy took effect last Saturday, despite opposition from the trucking industry, which has warned it could lead to supply chain issues. The Canadian Trucking Alliance says the “vast majority of truckers” are vaccinated, but has warned that the mandate could still affect up to 26,000 of the 160,000 Canadian truckers who regularly make trips across the U.S. border.
Regardless of the new Canadian mandate, all Canadians, including truckers, must be vaccinated to enter the United States as of Saturday, according to new U.S. regulations.
Velentim, who wouldn’t say if he had been vaccinated but stressed he was not anti-vaccine in general, said he didn’t think the policy would change any truckers’ minds.
“I’m against being told, ‘You will do this or you will lose your job.’ It’s not at all about being against vaccines,” he said. “I have lots of vaccines, I’ve travelled extensively around the world.”
Supporter Errol Pobah, who said he planned to unfurl a large banner in support of the truckers over Highway 1, said he hoped the rally sent a message to the Liberal government.
“Frankly, I’m hoping they completely shut down Ottawa and specifically Parliament Hill, just based on all of this way, way, way over the top COVID restrictions and lockdowns and mandates and masks and, quite frankly, what I find most offensive is going after the kids,” he said.
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Pobah argued that the “vaccines aren’t working,” and that “the so-called cure is a hell of a lot worse than the disease.”
While the COVID-19 vaccines have not proven effective at preventing transmission of the Omicron variant, data shows they remain highly effective at preventing severe outcomes, with unvaccinated people being hospitalized, admitted to intensive care units and dying at a rate many times higher than the fully vaccinated.
Sunday’s convoy was separate from an unrelated truckers’ convoy on Saturday protesting unsafe B.C. highway conditions.
On Saturday, the Canadian Trucking Alliance issued a statement saying it “strongly disapproves of any protests on public roadways, highways and bridges.”
“CTA believes such actions – especially those that interfere with public safety – are not how disagreements with government policies should be expressed,” the organization said.
“Members of the trucking industry who want to publicly express displeasure over government policies can choose to hold an organized, lawful event on Parliament Hill or contact their local MP. What is not acceptable is disrupting the motoring public on highways and commerce at the border.”
Lori Turnbull, director of the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie, told Global News the convoy represented a diverse mixture of opponents to the vaccine policy.
“Some (are) people who have issues with the vaccines themselves, some who have issues with government telling them what to do no matter what it is they’re being told to do, and then there are some who are concerned about the vaccine mandate for supply chain reasons, so it is not all one homogenous group,” she said.
Turnbull said she expects the federal opposition to pick up on the issue when Parliament resumes later this month.
As for how effective the convoy will be, Turnbull said it depends on what its goal is.
But she said given how much lead time the federal government gave the industry on the mandate, and how consistent the Liberals have been in their vaccine mandate policy, she did not expect the convoy to change its mind.
“I honestly don’t think the government is going to turn this around or go back on its position or extend the exemption in any way,” she said.
“When people are protesting on the street, that’s usually a sign that government is not willing to make a change, and this is really designed to get public awareness, and also possibly as we’ve seen to get some fundraising efforts off the ground.”
As of Sunday, a GoFundMe for the convoy had raised more than $2.2 million.