“It’s all about the mandate,” said Martin Despatis, an independent truck owner/operator from St-Jérôme, Québec. “This (rally) is so important for the country.”
The placard on the front of Despatis’ truck that stated “The trucker convoy is not anti-vaccination. It is anti-government mandates.” He agrees that the focus of the rally, is to protest the current federal policies for vaccination against COVID-19. The trucker convoy protest began in response to the latest federal policy that took effect January 15 and affects cross-border truckers like him.
All truckers, whether working for a company or independent owner-operators, must have full vaccination against COVID-19. If not, they face a mandatory two-week quarantine and molecular testing for the virus before they can cross into Canada from the U.S. The trucker convoy protest has since expanded its focus to cover other federal policies dealing with COVID-19.
Despatis estimates the cost to him for taking part in the rally Saturday instead of on the road on a job is at least a couple thousand dollars, in both revenue and expense. But he said it is worth it if it helps to get the federal government to rethink how its vaccination policy affects business.
“Canada needs to work,” he said.
Canada Unity, the non-government political group that organized the event, which it called the Freedom Convoy, invited other preople through its Facebook page to join the convoy along the way. Cheyenne Raynard, a diary farmer in Vankleek Hill, accepted the invitation. He planned to drive alongside the big trucks as far as the Casselman turnoff from Highway 417 and then head back home because “I have to tend to my cows” he said.
“I’m fine with them (government) encouraging vaccination,” Raynard said, during a phone interview, but added that he thinks the federal vaccine mandates now “unfairly target” people who are not vaccinated. “I think if you want to get vaccinated, get vaccinated, but don’t be afraid of people who are unvaccinated.”
Between 10:30 and 11 a.m., both the truckers gathered at Herb’s Truck Stop, and their supporters driving personal vehicles, began making their way onto the highway under the direction of OPP traffic control officers. They headed off to Ottawa, passing by crowds of spectators waving flats and cheering.
Rally participants spent the day in Ottawa as planned but many remained on Parliament Hill and spread throughout the city on Sunday and Monday. Canada Unity announced through social media plans to have some participants relocate to various city shopping malls for mini-rallies during the week. The rally has now received criticism for the behaviour of some participants for trespass and vandalism at the Canadian War Memorial and the Terry Fox Mermorial. Concerns have been expressed through mainstream media and social media that political extremists are also trying to use the rally to promote their own agendas and philosphies.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) released a statement, expressing disapproval of the actions of the convoy organizers and saying that its members should hold their own organized protest. The CTA represents Canadian truckers, both independent owner-operators and those working for freight companies, and industry suppliers. The group stated that vaccination rates among Canadian truckers are similar to the general public.
The federal government has stated that it will not change its cross-border vaccination policy. The U.S. government also has a similar policy in place requiring proof of vaccination for cross-border trucking.
A GoFundMe campaign, organized by Tamara Lich of Medicine Hat, Alberta, to raise money for the convoy campaign now totals about $8 million. GoFundMe froze access to the fund temporarily because Lich and others involved with the fundraiser had not provided specific details of how the money would be used. Last week GoFundMe allowed release of $1 million from the fund, and organizers of the fundraising say the money will first go to cover the gasoline, food, and other expenses of truckers who took part in the convoy rally, and the rest of money will go to a “veterans group” chosen by donors to the fund.