Truck drivers in Canada are slow-rolling in convoys across the country to protest the COVID-19 vaccine mandate at the U.S. border, with plans to converge at the capital, Ottawa, on Saturday.
Among them will be Ontario owner-operator Brigitte Belton, who until recently regularly moved freight between the U.S. and Canada. Since Saturday, she and other drivers who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 have been barred from crossing the border.
“I’m literally going to lose my truck, my house, my car, my savings and live in a cardboard box,” said Belton, who drives a 2015 Mack Pinnacle.
Over the weekend, multiple convoys with hundreds of trucks set off as part of the Freedom Convoy, while local protests have already snarled traffic at some border crossings. Organizers say thousands of drivers have signed on along with supporters from outside the industry.
For Belton, who questions the safety of the vaccines, the U.S. and Canadian mandates go too far.
“We’re not anti-anything,” she said. “We’re pro-choice. If you want the vaccine, go get it. I’m not stopping you. But why do you have the right to tell me what I actually ingest in my body?”
“I’ve got questions all over the place about this shot,” she said, despite assurances from Health Canada that the approved vaccines are safe and that “serious adverse events are rare.”
Convoy raises over $2 million
The Freedom Convoy has raised over CA$3.3 million ($2.6 million) through a GoFundMe campaign. The donors included Alberta-based Evans Trucking, which contributed CA$5,000. Several of Evans’ drivers are taking part in convoys aimed at snarling traffic at the border.
”We don’t believe that the government should have the right to tell anybody what they should do with their body,” said General Manager Reese Evans. “We stand behind people that don’t want to get vaccinated.”
Vaccination rates vary widely across the Canadian trucking industry. While many carriers in the Toronto area — the largest freight market in the country — report rates above 90%, there are also companies like Evans Trucking, where more than a third of drivers are unvaccinated.
The protests came after the U.S. closed its borders to unvaccinated Canadian and Mexican truckers on Saturday. Canada implemented a similar restriction at its borders on Jan. 15 and plans to extend vaccine mandates to federally regulated trucking companies.
Trudeau ‘pissed off truckers,’ says owner-operator
Belton also blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the Canada Border Services Agency earlier this month made statements that unvaccinated Canadian drivers wouldn’t be subjected to testing and quarantines upon returning from the U.S. The Canadian government subsequently said those statements were issued in error.
“If he had just left it as [it is] now — you don’t need to be vaccinated to cross the border — this probably all never would have happened,” Belton said of Trudeau. “But when he switched it, he pissed off truckers and we went, we can’t just fight for us now, we’re fighting for everybody.”
Watch now: Canadian truckers fight back against vaccine mandates
On Monday, Trudeau brushed aside anger over the vaccine mandates, telling reporters that “90% of truckers are vaccinated” — similar to figures among the Canadian adult population — and blamed Conservative Party politicians for stirring fears about disruptions to the supply chain.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents over 4,500 carriers in Canada, has criticized the convoys, saying it “does not support and strongly disapproves of any protests on public roadways, highways, and bridges.”
CTA had been calling on the U.S. and Canadian governments to delay the mandates over fears of that they could mean a loss of 10% to 15% of the 160,000 cross-border drivers. But it is now pushing for the industry to accept them.
“The Government of Canada and the United States have now made being vaccinated a requirement to cross the border,” CTA president Stephen Laskowski said in a statement. “This regulation is not changing so, as an industry, we must adapt and comply with this mandate. The only way to cross the border, in a commercial truck or any other vehicle, is to get vaccinated.”
Belton dismissed the calls by the CTA, the largest trucking industry group in Canada.
“I heard what the CTA has to say, and my response is, What have you done for me lately?” she said. “I’ve got an ELD in my truck. I’m paying a carbon tax.”
While some unvaccinated drivers have turned to moving domestic Canadian freight, it generally comes at a significant discount to cross-border runs.
“That’s not enough to get me out of bed,” she said.
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