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Trucks participating in a cross-country convoy protesting measures taken by authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19 are parked on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

A convoy of truckers has travelled across Canada to protest new federal vaccine requirements for cross-border essential workers. Supporters driving in their own vehicles joined for parts of the journey to protest the mandates, while others have donated millions of dollars through GoFundMe to help finance the convoy. Livestreams of the convoy posted on Facebook show hundreds of people lining the street to cheer on the truckers as they drive by, while the convoy’s hashtag, #freedromconvoy2022 has trended on Twitter.

Here’s everything you need to know about the convoy, their demands and how politicians are responding.

What is the Freedom Rally trucker convoy?

On Sunday, Jan. 23, hundreds of big rig trucks embarked for Ottawa from Vancouver in protest of the federal government’s new vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers. The convoy, dubbed the Freedom Rally, began to arrive in the capital on Friday Jan. 28, with the main rally planned for Saturday, Jan. 29 when drivers will stage a protest on Parliament Hill. Convoys driving from Newfoundland and Windsor, Ont., are also planning to convene in Ottawa.

Ottawa police are prepared for “significant” protests at Parliament Hill as trucker convoy converges on Ottawa. The number of participants is quickly changing, but senior Ottawa law enforcement officials said that, so far, they expect 1,000 to 2,000 people to arrive in trucks and other vehicles, and stay through the weekend.

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said the main group of truckers has been peaceful as it rolls through towns and cities, but others who plan to join the protest or hold counter demonstrations are being more aggressive. “There are a range of people on social media who are producing a range of statements from benign to threatening, and all of that is being monitored,” Chief Sloly told the police board on Jan. 26.

What is the new vaccine mandate for truckers?

The mandate, which was first announced in November and came into effect on Jan. 15, requires Canadian truckers to be doubly vaccinated in order to avoid having to quarantine for 14 days when returning from the United States. Truckers had previously been exempt from border vaccination requirements as essential service providers. The U.S. also implemented a similar mandate, which went into effect on Jan. 22.

The protesting truckers are demanding that the federal government drop the vaccine mandate. “Our current government is implementing rules and mandates that are destroying the foundation of our business, industries and livelihoods,” the GoFundMe fundraiser set up for the convoy reads. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has also argued that the federal government has not produced statistics showing that truck drivers are a major source of COVID-19 infections in Canada.

A convoy of truckers and supporters protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates to cross into the U.S. drove through Toronto on Thursday. The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which has denounced the protest, estimates that about 15 per cent of truckers, up to 16,000 people, are not fully vaccinated.

The Globe and Mail

Who is opposing the vaccine mandate?

Trucking-industry lobby groups have said the border requirement will worsen the shortage of available drivers, driving up food prices and slowing deliveries. Even before the surge in Omicron cases, the trucking industry was facing one of the highest job-vacancy rates in Canada, with almost 23,000 driver positions unfilled as of the late summer – an increase of 8,000 since the beginning of 2021.

COVID-19 vaccine mandate for truckers not causing food shortages and empty shelves, Canada’s transport minister says

The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which has condemned the protests because it “strongly disapproves of any protests on public roadways, highways, and bridges,” called for the mandate to be delayed until supply chains improve. It has warned that the rules will impact about 12,000 cross-border truckers who are not fully vaccinated. The trucking association believes the industry’s vaccination rate is north of 80 per cent, mirroring the high national rate.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce president, Perrin Beatty, said that his group supports vaccine mandates but the timing of this one is causing “more harm than good.”

How do political leaders feel about the mandate?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has defended the federal government’s decision to implement a vaccine mandate for truck drivers. Since the protests began last weekend, the federal government has said it will not back down on vaccination rules.

In a joint statement released on Tuesday, Jan. 25, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough and Stephen Laskowski, president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, said “vaccination, used in combination with preventative public health measures, is the most effective tool to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for Canadians, and to protect public health.”

Conservative MP and transport critic Melissa Lantsman told The Globe and Mail that the public-health rules need to be balanced with economic constraints. Mr. Trudeau, however, has accused Conservative politicians – some of whom are opposed to the mandate – of “fear mongering” about the impact that the rule will have on supply chains.

Meanwhile, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has sided with trucker convoy protesters. “Truckers have been our heroes, period,” Mr. O’Toole said in a video released Thursday evening. “Canada doesn’t function as a trading nation without them.”

Conservative deputy leader Candice Bergen tweeted her support for the truckers on Tuesday, issuing a statement that read in part, “I support peaceful demonstrations against these mandates, and our truckers from Portage-Lisgar and from across Canada.” In an interview with The Globe, O’Toole said

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tweeted that Canada is “facing a critical supply chain crunch. With a quarantine rule for unvaccinated truckers, Ottawa is making a bad situation much worse.” He also tweeted that he’s currently working with U.S. governors on a joint letter to President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to revoke the vaccine mandate.

Opinion: Erin O’Toole takes big gamble by siding with trucker convoy protesters

Opinion: Erin O’Toole has to unhitch Conservatives from the ‘Freedom Convoy,’ or get run over

Opinion: Trucker convoy has evolved into something far more dangerous

Who is supporting the convoy?

The convoy has garnered support across the country. A GoFundMe has currently raised over $7.8-million from more than 98,000 donors – funds that organizer Tamara Lich says will go toward fuel, food and accommodations for the truckers. Lich is the secretary and member of the Maverick Party, formerly known as Wexit Canada, a federal political party that supports Alberta separatism.

On Jan. 25, GoFundMe said it was withholding the funds until the organizer was able to provide documentation as to how it would be distributed. “We require that fundraisers be transparent about the flow of funds and have a clear plan for how those funds will be spent. In this case, we are in touch with the organizer to verify that information,” said Rachel Hollis, a spokeswoman for the crowdfunding platform.

On Jan. 27, a GoFundMe spokesperson said the organizer had demonstrated how the funds would be used to cover participants’ fuel costs, and an initial $1M was withdrawn for that purpose. They said the organizer will provide more information in the coming weeks as to which charities the remaining funds will be distributed to, and while GoFundMe continues to verify information in the background, the fundraiser can remain active.

More reading:

Almost one in five Canadian truckers is South Asian, but many don’t see themselves represented in the trucker convoy

Trucker convoy raises millions in funds as vaccine-hesitant supporters flock to cause

Trudeau defends vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers amid supply chain concerns

Canada’s vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers comes into effect

Does a vaccine mandate for truckers come with more costs than benefits?

COVID-19 vaccine mandates will worsen trucker shortage, affecting consumers, experts say

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