Trucker convoy leaves Kingston heading for weekend rally in Ottawa

Click to play video: 'Trucker convoy leaves Kingston heading for weekend rally in Ottawa'
Trucker convoy leaves Kingston heading for weekend rally in Ottawa
A convoy of truckers has left Kingston en route for a Saturday rally in Ottawa – Jan 28, 2022

The first trucks in a massive convoy organized to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates, especially one targeting cross-border big-rig drivers, has left Kingston, Ont., and is on its way to the Ottawa area.

Kingston police announced on Twitter that the last vehicles in the convoy had departed the city around 9:30 a.m. Friday, putting its likely arrival in the capital at around noon.

The convoy has been gaining participants and supporters as it rolls across the country from all directions for a weekend rally.

While the size of the convoy has been a source of debate, the Kingston police said they had counted 17 full tractor-trailers, 104 big rigs without trailers, 424 passenger vehicles and six recreational vehicles.

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In Toronto on Thursday, crowds of people lined part of the route, waving Canadian flags and holding up signs denouncing the vaccine mandate as they cheered the truckers on.

Protesters began setting up in Ottawa Thursday night. On Friday morning, several vehicles flying Canadian and Quebec flags were driving around the block near Parliament Hill and honking their horns.

A large rig emblazoned with an expletive against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was parked outside the West Block building, which currently houses the House of Commons while Centre Block is undergoing renovations.

Some with extreme, far-right and white supremacist views have latched onto the protest.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance has disavowed the protest and said more than 85 per cent of truckers are vaccinated. Many truckers have also posted on social media that they continue to do their jobs and that the convoy doesn’t speak for them.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has warned people not to dismiss the protesters as simple freedom fighters, saying nobody wants to see the Parliament Hill demonstration descend into anti-government violence.

Click to play video: 'David Akin updates on the trucker convoy headed for Ottawa'
David Akin updates on the trucker convoy headed for Ottawa

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Thursday that he would meet with some of the truckers, adding that he and his MPs have long stood against the vaccine mandate they now face. But he also denounced those involved in the convoy who are espousing racist and extremist ideas.

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Meanwhile, police in Ottawa stressed they would not tolerate any criminal behaviour as they made plans to deal with thousands of demonstrators on Saturday.

The federal government ended the truckers’ exemption to the vaccine mandate on Jan. 15, meaning Canadian truck drivers need to be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a two-week quarantine and pre-arrival molecular test for COVID-19 before crossing into Canada.

Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated foreign national truck drivers who do not have a right to re-enter are turned away at the border and directed back to the United States.

The U.S. now also requires Canadian truckers to provide proof of vaccination to enter that country.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said no single border measure is completely effective, but she compared public health restrictions to Swiss cheese, in which each slice has holes, but layering them helps to form a strong level of protection.

“With the improved availability and access to vaccinations, I think you’ve seen that the government has increased those vaccine requirements as time goes by because we just know how effective vaccines are,” she told a COVID-19 briefing on Friday.

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Canada tracks positivity rates among vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals but doesn’t disaggregate that information according to whether someone is a transportation worker, Tam said, so she was not able to say how effective the mandate had been for truck drivers specifically.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos reiterated his government’s stance that the way to end the pandemic is to get vaccinated.

“We’re all on the same convoy to exit COVID-19 and we know that the best road to do that is the vaccination road,” he said.

“We understand there is frustration around COVID-19 but we also know that the only way to exit COVID-19 is to get vaccinated.”

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