Protestors converge at Sask. legislature in support of Ottawa truck convoy

More than 1,000 protesters gathered outside the Saskatchewan legislature Saturday in solidarity with what's being called the "freedom convoy" who are demanding for an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, among other public health orders.

Most in attendance demanded an end to public health restrictions

More than 1,000 protesters gathered outside the Saskatchewan legislature Saturday in solidarity of the so-called ‘freedom convoy’ calling for an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, among other public health orders. (Kirk Fraser/CBC News)

Semi-trailer drivers from across the province travelled in convoys to Regina Saturday afternoon for a solidarity rally in support of the cross-Canada protest calling for an end to federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates. 

Following a city police escort, the truckers arrived at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building to find at least 1,000 cheering supporters — many of them holding Canadian flags or signs protesting public health measures.

"This is about freedom and unity," said supporter William Heikoop. "I know I speak for the majority of Canadians when I say that we just want our freedoms back and to be respected."

While most greeted the convoy outside the legislative building, others, like Carol Johnson, lined up along Albert Street South hours earlier to show their support as vehicles arrived in town.

With many loved ones in the trucking industry across Canada, she said it was important that she showed up in solidarity for them. 

"With or without vaccines, I support truckers 100 per cent," Johnson said. "Open those borders up and let's get things back to normal."

Trucking association critical of protests on roadways

Ahead of Saturday's protest in Regina, the Saskatchewan Trucking Association told CBC News it does not condone the cross-Canada convoy.

"We just simply don't approve of protests on public roadways, highways and bridges, and we feel that the best way to deal with these situations is … through your local MP or government contact," said Brett Marcoux, board chair of the association, noting that an estimated 90 per cent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated.

Protesters call for an end to public health measures

Saskatchewan's solidarity rally was one of many held across the country Saturday to coincide with what organizers are calling the "freedom convoy" on Parliament Hill.

That demonstration was originally sparked by truckers in an effort to urge the federal government to drop its vaccine mandate at the Canada-U.S. border for essential workers. However, it has since evolved into a larger, cross-country movement against many public health measures.

For Dustin Hannah — a grain trucker and farmer who travelled in his big rig with his seven-year-old daughter, Kaebri, from Foam Lake, Sask. — Saturday's rally was as much about standing up for long-haulers as it was about calling on the Saskatchewan government to remove its provincial COVID-19 restrictions.

"We need to end the division, end the segregation. Enough is enough," he said. "We need to get back to normal — and not the new normal the government's been pushing."

Dustin Hannah and his daughter, Kaebri, 7, drove from Foam Lake, Sask., on Saturday to take part in the solidarity convoy to the Saskatchewan legislature. Hannah said he was there mostly to call for an end to the province’s public health measures. (Jessie Anton/CBC News)

Similar feelings were echoed by rally supporter Randall Hand.

He emphasized that he's not outwardly against many public health measures, such as the current mask mandate, but noted he would like to see less of a stigma behind the freedom to choose whether to get vaccinated.

"We still wear our masks, but at the same time, this is Canada — you're still allowed some personal freedom," Hand said. "This is a democracy."

Randall Hand and Carol Johnson were among the first few dozen supporters in Regina to line up on Albert Street South Saturday in support of the solidarity trucker convoy. (Jessie Anton/CBC News)

Premier thanks truckers, teases end to proof of vaccination

In a letter posted to Twitter Saturday morning, Premier Scott Moe thanked truck drivers and said he stands behind them in wanting to axe the vaccination mandate at the Canada-U.S. border.

"The current federal border policy for truckers makes no sense," he wrote. "An unvaccinated trucker does not pose any greater risk of transmission than a vaccinated trucker." 

Moe's comments contradict public health information on the Saskatchewan government's website, which states that COVID-19 vaccines "will reduce the risk of transmission and, when transmission occurs, reduce the risk of serious illness and death."

Even as highly contagious coronavirus variants are circulating, virologists and immunologists have said leading vaccines are not only preventing serious infections but likely curbing transmission as well.

In the same letter, Moe said the province will end the current proof-of-negative test and proof-of-vaccination policy "in the not-too-distant future" — which came as welcome news to many at Saturday's rally in Regina, including Heikoop.

"It's been causing a lot of division in this province, and it's been causing a lot of division in this country. It's splitting families, it's splitting friends," the rally supporter said. 

Earlier this week, amid rising COVID-19 hospitalizations — and much to the dismay of the opposition NDP and doctors alike — the Saskatchewan government eased some of its public health measures.

The province shortened the self-isolation period for people who are not fully vaccinated down to five days from 10. The requirement to self-isolate after being deemed a close contact was also removed for people who are not fully immunized.

Saskatchewan's public health orders — including mandatory masking, proof of vaccination and mandates for government workers — are due to expire Feb. 28.

With files from Lauren Pelley and Jason Warick