Trucker Vaccine Rule Brings Polarizing Protest to Canada’s Capital

Trucker Vaccine Rule Brings Polarizing Protest to Canada’s Capital

A convoy of truckers and others who oppose vaccine mandates has rolled into Ottawa for a weekend of rowdy protests, putting Canada’s capital city on edge amid warnings from police that they don’t know how large the crowds will get. 

Saturday saw thousands of protesters pile into downtown Ottawa and onto the grounds of Canada’s Parliament buildings, while a long line of big rigs, pickup trucks, RVs and other assorted vehicles trickled through the streets blasting on their horns, bringing gridlock to the city core.

Trucker Vaccine Rule Brings Polarizing Protest to Canada’s Capital

The protest group has attracted an unusual amount of international attention, having been championed on prime time Fox News shows, Joe Rogan’s podcast and Elon Musk’s Twitter feed. 

The initial motivation for the protest was a new rule requiring truckers to show proof of vaccination when entering Canada, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government implemented on Jan. 15. Until then, truckers had been allowed to cross the U.S.-Canada border with few restrictions. The U.S. imposed a similar mandate on Jan. 22. 

But the protest has morphed into a catch-all movement of people angry at public health restrictions meant to control the spread of Covid-19. A crowd-funding campaign has hauled in more than C$7 million ($5.5 million) through Go Fund Me to support the truckers.

While many of the protesters on Saturday had profanity-laced anti-Trudeau signs and were denouncing everything from mask mandates to pharmaceutical companies, there were at least some truckers who came out to protest the border rule.

One man sitting in a semi truck near Parliament Hill, who gave his name as Emo and said he immigrated from Bulgaria 20 years ago, told Bloomberg News he crosses the U.S.-Canada border three times a week shipping produce, and is vaccinated only because he had to in order to keep working.

Trucker Vaccine Rule Brings Polarizing Protest to Canada’s Capital

“They forced me to get vaccinated, it wasn’t my choice,” he said. “My message is: let everybody choose what to do to his body.”

But the Canadian Trucking Alliance, a federation representing provincial trucking organizations, released a statement Saturday warning the protests are unrepresentative of the broader industry. The CTA has said about 90% of Canadian truckers are vaccinated, and that the industry must “adapt and comply” with the border mandate. 

“While a number of Canadians are in Ottawa to voice their displeasure over this mandate, it also appears that a great number of these protesters have no connection to the trucking industry and have a separate agenda beyond a disagreement over cross border vaccine requirements,” the statement said.

A heavy police presence was keeping an eye on the crowd Saturday. A day earlier, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly told media they were preparing for all possibilities.

“The demonstrations this weekend will be unique, fluid, risky, and significant,” Sloly said.

Canada is not immune to violence but, with few exceptions, protests tend to be orderly affairs. Convoy organizers have pledged to cooperate and be peaceful. Police have expressed concern the protests could attract violent actors seeking to provoke law enforcement.

The demonstrators have been hailed as heroes by anti-vaccine groups on mainstream and alternative social media platforms. On Twitter, a search by Bloomberg News found posts amplifying the activities of the convoy in Arabic, Dutch, German and Spanish. Facebook groups and pages about the trucker convoy have grown to tens of thousands of users.

‘Fringe Minority’ 

At least some of the organizers of the convoy appear to have motivations that go well beyond relaxing health restrictions or loosening vaccine rules. One group, called Canada Unity, produced a manifesto calling on Governor General Mary Simon, Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in the country, to topple Trudeau’s government. 

Trudeau, who is currently isolating after being exposed to Covid, disparaged the convoy during a press conference on Wednesday. 

“The small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa, or who are holding unacceptable views that they’re expressing, do not represent the views of Canadians,” Trudeau said.

Trucker Vaccine Rule Brings Polarizing Protest to Canada’s Capital

Canadian voters tend to be broadly supportive of vaccine mandates. About two-thirds agree with the idea of mandatory vaccination for all who are eligible, according to an Ipsos poll done for television outlet Global News. 

So far, the prime minister has shown no sign of backing down on the vaccine mandate. About 78% of Canada’s population, and 82% of those eligible for the shots, has had at least two doses of a Covid vaccine.   

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who heads the largest opposition party, has attempted to walk a cautious line of embracing the cause of truckers, while seeking to distance himself from some of the more contentious elements of the movement. Other Conservative Party lawmakers in his caucus have been forthright in championing the protest.

Maxime Bernier, leader of the populist People’s Party of Canada, was seen Saturday mingling with the protesters. Bernier is a former Conservative Party cabinet minister and leadership contender, and many Conservatives are concerned about leaking support to the PPC. 

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.