Hundreds of truckers headed to Ottawa in 'Freedom Rally' convoy against vaccine mandate
Mandate for cross-border truckers went into effect on Jan. 15; rally expected to take a week
Editor's Note: On the weekend of Jan. 21-23, truckers based in B.C. held two separate convoys in protest of two separate issues. This is the story about the truckers' federal vaccine mandate protest. To read the story about the truckers' highway conditions protest, click here.
Hundreds of truckers set off from British Columbia to Ottawa on Sunday to protest a federal vaccine mandate despite the urging of the country's largest trucking federation to comply.
The protest has been dubbed the "Freedom Rally" against the federal mandate for cross-border truckers, which went into effect on Jan. 15.
Canadian truck drivers now 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.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance and the American Trucking Associations say up to 26,000 of the 160,000 drivers who make regular trips across the Canada-U.S. border are likely to be sidelined as a result of the vaccine mandate.
It sparked a movement online to protest the mandate, with a GoFundMe raising money for the trucking rally raising over $2.5 million as of Sunday.
"The goal is we're going to get [to Ottawa by next weekend] and demand these mandates get stopped," said rally attendee Candace Hill.
Hill was speaking from Delta, B.C., where supporters and truckers had gathered Sunday before setting off on their cross-country trip. The convoy is scheduled to meet up with another that left from Prince George, B.C., in Calgary on Sunday night.
The protesters were supported by anti-vaccine-mandate protesters throughout the province, including in Kamloops in B.C.'s Interior.
Candice Camille, a photographer who attended the Kamloops rally, said she was pleasantly surprised by the turnout there.
"For me, the mandates need to change to fit our society's lifestyle and people's freedoms," she said.
"[The mandates should also] give the people the protection and the support on the other side, the people who feel like they need that protection and support."
Trade associations on both sides of the border have said the restriction would put additional strain on supply chains amid the latest COVID-19 surge and severe worker shortages.
But the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), a federation of the country's carriers, owner-operators and industry suppliers, released a statement on Saturday strongly disapproving of the protest.
The statement says that the CTA's members should hold an organized protest on Parliament Hill instead of disrupting public roadways and border crossings for over a week.
"This regulation is not changing so, as an industry, we must adapt and comply with this mandate," said CTA president Stephen Laskowski in the statement.
"The only way to cross the border, in a commercial truck or any other vehicle, is to get vaccinated."
Laurent Flambourari, a truck driver based in Burnaby, B.C., said the protests are a "bit too late" given the vaccine mandate went into effect a week ago.
"You have the total right to not get vaccinated. But again, that has an impact on your life and the consequences which comes along," he said.
The vaccine mandate convoy is separate from a B.C. rally held Saturday, which was organized by the West Coast Trucking Association to protest poor highway conditions in B.C. this winter.
With files from Mark Gollom, The Canadian Press and Chloé Dioré de Périgny