Canadian truckers shut down Ottawa with vaccine protests

Anna Thibodeau
Staff Writer

A convoy of big rigs protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates arrived in Ottawa, on January 29 after a weeklong drive across Canada. Called the Freedom Convoy, the group of truckers is protesting measures recently announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requiring vaccines for Canadian truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border and mandatory quarantine periods for unvaccinated truckers returning to Canada, reports BBC News. The Freedom Convoy started as a cross-country drive from Western Canada to Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, and gained both followers and publicity as it moved east across the country. 

The convoy’s original demand was to reverse the vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the border, but protesters quickly began demanding an end to all vaccine mandates within Canada. The actions of protestors have escalated along with their demands, with protestors openly committing offensive acts. These include accounts of protestors defacing the National War Memorial, dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, honking their horns through the night, flying swastika-covered confederate and Canadian flags, using racist and hateful speech, harassing Ottawa residents for wearing masks, egging homes, ignoring mask mandates, disrespecting a statue of Terry Fox—a cancer patient and researcher widely considered a Canadian hero—and harassing and assaulting a local soup kitchen to give them meals, as reported by The Washington Post, CNN, and The Associated Press. These actions have been widely condemned by Trudeau and other Canadian officials. 

CNN reports that crowd management has cost local police as much as $800,000. Police have set up a hotline for hate crimes, and businesses in the area have had to remain closed for multiple days, continues The Washington Post. The Freedom Convoy has devolved from its original focus into an anti-Trudeau protest, yet Prime Minister Trudeau has adamantly stated that he remains unintimidated by these demonstrations.

The Freedom Convoy initially gained support from Canadian conservative politicians as well as right-wing figures from outside Canada, including Joe Rogan, Donald Trump Jr., and Russel Brand. Conservatives initially saw the protest as a “symbol of the fatigue and division” that the pandemic has caused, BBC News continues. However, many conservatives who originally supported the convoy now condemn the protesters’ behavior, as the purpose and credibility of the protests have begun to spiral. The escalation has also led local police to worry that the protest was attracting far-right extremists. Organizers of the Freedom Convoy emphasized that extremists are not welcome, but according to The Washington Post, many of the protest’s leaders have been linked to far-right groups

In addition to protests in downtown Ottawa, countless trucks and cars blocked the Coutts border crossing between Canada and Montana, immobilizing traffic in both directions, according to CNN. Protesters also arrived in four other major Canadian cities for the second weekend of the protest, says NPR. However, local police quickly dispersed these groups. 

Online, protesters raised almost $10 million Canadian, or $7.8 million USD, using the popular crowdfund site GoFundMe, The Associated Press continues. After suspending the fundraiser, however, GoFundMe permanently cut off funding due to the unlawful activity exhibited by the protestors violating its terms of service. GoFundMe issued refunds to all who donated, however, protestors have since moved their efforts to another crowdfunding site, reports NPR NPR adds that the.

At this stage of the protest, it appears that many of the demonstrators are not connected to the trucking industry in any way. The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) does not support the convoy, estimating that 85 to 90 percent of cross-border truckers are already vaccinated. Further, The Washington Post explains that even if Canadian mandates are dropped, U.S. mandates would cause unvaccinated truckers to still be barred from entering the country. However, the CTA also acknowledges that the mandates could remove up to 16,000 drivers from cross-border routes, a heavy price for a country dealing with supply chain issues, inflation, labor shortages, and bad weather, says BBC News. Cross-border truckers are a significant aspect of the Canadian economy.

The Associated Press reports that evidence from law enforcement agencies shows that the protests have become an occupation, with the city declaring a state of emergency in order to get additional aid and supplies from the Canadian government. NPR stated that people found attempting to bring supplies to protesters can be arrested, and the organizers of the Freedom Convoy are facing a class-action lawsuit for the continuous honking. It is unclear how much longer the protests will persist.

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