Canadian lorry drivers protest against Covid vaccine mandates

'Freedom convoy' has been driving across Canada with plans to hold a rally in Ottawa on Saturday

As if the supply chain crunch couldn't get any worse, Canada’s capital is on high alert as it braces for the arrival of potentially thousands of big-rig lorries.

The “freedom convoy”, as it has been called by organisers, is a loose coalition of lorry drivers protesting the country’s various Covid-19 restrictions.

A GoFundMe page set up to support the convoy has raised over $7 million but the crowdsourcing website has yet to release all of the funds due to concerns over how the money will be spent.

The Freedom Convoy says on its page that “the time for political overreach is over”.

“Our current government is implementing rules and mandates that are destroying the foundation of our businesses, industries and livelihoods.”

The convoy started in British Columbia and has been rumbling across Canada’s frozen landscape all week gaining supporters and momentum.

The large caravan has been met by cheering crowds who have gathered on motorway overpasses, many waving Canadian flags or holding signs bashing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government.

It has even won the support of the world’s richest person, Elon Musk, who holds Canadian, US and South African citizenship. The head of Tesla voiced his encouragement, tweeting “Canadian truckers rule” to his 71.9 million followers.

The drivers’ initial grievance was over the federal government’s decision to require all drivers crossing into Canada to provide proof of vaccination but it has morphed into a much broader complaint over government overreach.

“We’re done with the mandates, we’re tired of it, there are other countries that are moving past it, and I think it’s time here,'' lorry driver Chris Barber told CTV News in Alberta.

About 30,000 lorries cross the border every day carrying an estimated $1 billion in goods.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates the mandate has affected between 10-15 per cent of the 120,000 drivers who cross the border frequently.

The alliance, which opposed the vaccine mandate, has come out against the rolling protest.

“CTA believes such actions — especially those that interfere with public safety — are not how disagreements with government policies should be expressed,” the organisation said in a statement.

Critics of the mandate say it is unnecessary as drivers tend to work for long hours in isolation.

“We don't believe we should be mandating people out of work that are at low risk to spread this around,” said Mike Millian, president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, which represents companies with lorry fleets.

Mr Millian told The National that he supported the Freedom Convoy’s right to protest but that his organisation did not endorse them.

Prominent figures on Canada's far-right scene have thrown their support behind the drivers, corrupting what many insist is a peaceful demonstration.

Those who study extremism in Canada say they are concerned by chatter on social media suggesting this weekend’s protest could become Canada’s own January 6, a reference to the violent insurrection that took place in Washington last year.

“The far right loves to co-opt what could be just a normal protest,” said Brad Galloway, a former white supremacist who is now a co-ordinator at the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University.

“And that's what they've done again here. They've jumped in hard,” Mr Galloway told The National.

Mr Galloway said he sees similarities to what is happening in Canada to the far-right movement that flourished under former president Donald Trump in the US.

“It's the same sentiment, though, that we're hearing now calling for a violent assault on Ottawa, all of that kind of stuff that's literally mirroring what was happening on January 6.”

People gather on an overpass to support lorry drivers arriving in a convoy to protest Covid-19 vaccine mandates. Reuters

Police in Ottawa are preparing for large demonstrations at the weekend, which are expected to bring the city to a standstill.

“The demonstrations this weekend will be unique, fluid, risky and significant,” said Peter Sloly, chief of the Ottawa Police Department.

“These demonstrations are national in scope. They're massive in scale. Unfortunately, they're polarising in nature.”

Mr Sloly said he had brought in additional police, national security and emergency services to prepare for the protests. He warned demonstrators that police were prepared to arrest and prosecute any people found to be breaking the law.

“We have the capability and the commitment to pursue investigations and prosecutions well after the demonstrations have ended,” said Mr Sloly.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is the recipient of much of the drivers’ ire, called them a “fringe minority” and said they don't represent the “views of Canadians".

But his conservative opponent Erin O’Toole has agreed to meet the lorry drivers and said the convoy represents the “fatigue” many Canadians are feeling with regard to the pandemic.

Updated: January 30, 2022, 7:14 AM
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