Dozens of Manitoba truckers parade vehicles to protest federal vaccine rules
'We need to end all of these totalitarian mandates,' spokesman says
Dozens of Manitoba truckers are parading their vehicles up and down Highway 75 near the international border to protest vaccine mandates, particularly those impacting their jobs.
As of Jan. 15, new federal rules mandate that Canadian truck drivers returning from the U.S have to quarantine if they're not vaccinated. An American mandate will begin on Jan. 22, stating all drivers heading into the U.S. must also be vaccinated.
"We need to end all of these totalitarian mandates that our government has imposed on us for the last two years," said Rick Wall, who organized the event. "This is put on by truckers but we are calling to end all mandates for every single human being in this country, not just for us. It's extremely frustrating."
Under the new rules, unvaccinated truckers returning from the U.S, have to head home for nearly two weeks before making another run.
"That doesn't pay the bills," said Wall, president of a trucking firm based in Winkler, a region with some of the lowest vaccination rates in the province.
Wall doesn't ask for vaccination status at his company but estimates the majority of his drivers have not been immunized. As a result, the new rules "will have a detrimental effect on our company," he said.
"We're talking 20-plus drivers and a lot of office staff's livelihoods that are on the line just for our company alone."
The parade started at 3 a.m. and Wall said the intention is to go for the entire day.
RCMP spokesperson Paul Manaigre said about 30-40 semi-trucks are moving slowly in a loop between the Emerson port of entry and the weigh scales, which is a span of about three kilometres.
There are currently no lanes being blocked but travel is slow in the area, he said, noting officers are monitoring the situation.
Wall said it's not just semi-trucks taking part in the procession, there are also supporters in cars and pickup trucks and even a farm tractor or two.
At least one vehicle has flags in support of Donald Trump and signs on the dashboard saying "stop fascists."
"We basically all stand in unity," he said. "When the trucking community unite and stand together, we can create change with the support of others and that's what we're trying to accomplish out here."
Joe Janzen, president of Smoke'n Transport, of Morden, said the mandate "is just messing with people's lives" for no good reason.
"The unvaxxed, they see, for example, the NHL, right? They're all vaxxed but why is the NHL shutting down periodically? Because everybody has COVID," he said. "So the unvaxxed see that and they go, 'Well, why should I put that in my body, when it doesn't help?'
"So at the end of the day … what's the difference between vaxxed and unvaxxed?"
Rob Penner, president and CEO of Winnipeg-based Bison Transport, said his company is "on board" with the vaccination requirements but frustrated with how they were rolled out.
The policy has been blanketed in confusion since the federal government first announced in mid-November that by Jan. 15, all foreign nationals working as truckers would have to be fully vaccinated to enter Canada. It said unvaccinated Canadian truckers would be allowed in but would be subject to quarantine and testing requirements.
Then last Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency said the federal government was backing down from that commitment and would allow Canadian truckers to enter the country without having to quarantine even if they were unvaccinated or had received only one dose.
But the very next day, the federal government walked back that statement, saying the CBSA statement was "provided in error" and that the regulations outlined in November would stand.
Penner said the mandate impacts about 100 of Bison's drivers, or about 10 per cent of the company's cross-border fleet.
"Right now they're in limbo. If we have some work for them on the Canadian domestic [routes] we are deploying them there," he said.
Ironically, cross-border drivers tend to spend more time by themselves and have had the lowest number of COVID-19 cases than in any other segment of the transport business, he added.
What's going to likely happen now is consumers will face higher costs for goods, Penner said.
"As it becomes harder for shippers to source capacity to be involved in cross-border trade. So this will put a lot of strain on the supply chain and it will increase the cost of anything originating or destined to the U.S.," he said.
There are currently about 160,000 drivers involved in cross-border trade, including 120,000 Canadians, according to Penner, putting extra pressure on Canadian drivers.
Even though Bison is "up among the best-of-the-best in regards to convincing our fleets to do the right thing" and get vaccinated, there is still a significant hit to the business, Penner said.
He can't imagine how much the supply chain is going to be squeezed with many other trucking companies having far fewer vaccinated drivers.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which pushed against the federal mandate for truckers, estimates 10 to 20 per cent of Canadian truckers — between 12,000 and 22,000 workers — are being forced off the job by the new mandate.
The CTA also estimates about 70 per cent of the $650 billion US-Canada trade moves by truck.