The federal government says it will not back down on its vaccination rule for cross-border truckers despite entrenched opposition from some drivers and groups claiming to represent their interests.
In a joint media statement released today, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough and Stephen Laskowski, the president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), said COVID-19 vaccines are the “most effective tool to reduce the risk of COVID-19” and protect public health.
A convoy of protesters — including truckers and members of groups broadly opposed to public health mandates — are set to descend on Ottawa this weekend to stage a demonstration on Parliament Hill.
The effort, dubbed the “freedom convoy” by participants, is being organized by Canada Unity, a group that opposes COVID-19-related measures. A GoFundMe campaign organized by Tamara Lich — who has ties to the Maverick Party, a federal party with roots in Alberta separatist circles — has so far collected more than $4.3 million in donations to support the convoy.
Some Conservative MPs have offered their support to the anti-mandate movement. Garnett Genuis, a Conservative MP from Alberta, called the policy a “vaccine vendetta.”
At least one Conservative MP — Martin Shields, who represents the Alberta riding of Bow River in the House of Commons — said he would be on hand in Ottawa to meet the convoy when it arrives. He said there should be “exceptions” to the mandate, including for essential workers who move goods across the Canada-U.S. border.
“Canadian supply chains are critical and the Trudeau Liberal government’s mandates and freedom-curbing restrictions have gone on too long. It’s time to get our freedoms back,” Shields tweeted.
“Let’s support the truckers and I’ll be happy to meet with them here in Ottawa,” he added in a video. “I want to meet those truckers.”
The federal ministers said they are working on the supply chain issues, which have been driven in large part by pandemic-related shortages, constrained port capacity and a reduced labour force. They promised to work with the trucking industry to draft “long-term strategies that will achieve real and lasting results.”
“As the pandemic continues, it remains critical that essential goods reach Canadians as quickly as possible. In fact, this is a top priority for the government of Canada and the Canadian Trucking Alliance,” the ministers said in their statement.
The mandate, which took effect on Jan. 15, states that all Canadian cross-border essential workers — including truckers — must show proof of vaccination at a port of entry to avoid stringent testing requirements and quarantine.
Those rules have been in effect for the travelling public since the fall. Truckers travelling within Canada are not affected by these new measures.
Partially vaccinated and unvaccinated foreign nationals will be turned away by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials. The United States has implemented a similar mandate requiring all U.S.-bound travellers to show proof that they’ve had the required shots.
While the CTA said the vast majority of truckers are fully vaccinated, it warned that anywhere from 12,000 to 16,000 Canadian cross-border commercial drivers — roughly 10 to 15 per cent of all truckers who regularly cross the Canada-U.S. boundary — could be sidelined by the federal mandate.
Business groups call for delay
Some business groups, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Manufacturing Coalition, are now calling on Ottawa pause the mandate to prevent further supply chain constraints.
In a statement, Dennis Darb, the chair of the manufacturers’ coalition, said companies “can’t get the goods we need because of supply chain bottlenecks,” a problem “made worse by the trucker vaccine mandate.”
“Our manufacturers can’t operate and Canadians are seeing empty shelves. We need the government to help relieve pressure by avoiding policies that make the situation worse and to help us get the workers we need,” Darb said.
Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said supply chains are under “extreme stress” because of a shortage of shipping containers and severe COVID-related restrictions in China, among other factors. Beatty said businesses don’t want to see the federal government “make matters worse at this critical time.”
“What we are asking for is that they delay implementation at a time when supply chains are under severe pressure and that they use that time to encourage and facilitate vaccinations,” Beatty said, adding he’s frustrated that the government hasn’t provided any data to suggest that truckers are a “serious source” of new COVID-19 infections in Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the policy at a press conference Monday, saying a wave of COVID-19 cases is doing more to disrupt Canada’s supply chains than any vaccine mandate could. He said enforcing this policy is the best way to keep new travel-related infections under control.
“We know that about 90 per cent of truckers are vaccinated across this country. We’re going to continue to do everything we can to ensure COVID does not become a scourge and therefore we need to encourage everyone to get vaccinated,” he said.