The conspicuous absence of South Asian truck drivers in the so-called Freedom Convoy that is protesting border vaccine mandates in Ottawa, is reflective of the community’s willingness to get vaccinated against COVID-19, say industry experts.
The protest has also hit the headlines in India, where almost a quarter of Canada’s 300,000 truck drivers hail from, after Bollywood diva Kangana Ranaut derided Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for “hiding at a secret location” as the protesters choked the nation’s capital.
Trudeau, who has denounced the protests, has been in quarantine since last week after testing positive for COVID-19 alongside two of his three children. He has refused to meet with the protesters, calling the Freedom Convoy an “insult to truth” about COVID vaccines.
“You hardly see any South Asian truckers in this Freedom Convoy protest because the community at large is very pro-vaccine…This is reflective of the high vaccination rates in the South Asian community,” Manan Gupta, the editor of Road Today, a magazine that focuses on issues facing South Asian truckers, told New Canadian Media.
“The Freedom Convoy has also been hijacked by some right wing interests and really doesn’t reflect the key issues the trucking industry faces…The organizers and most of the people protesting have no direct links to trucking.”
In the Peel Region of Ontario, where there is a large South Asian immigrant population and which is home to about 2,000 trucking companies, almost 90 per cent of residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated, Gupta noted.
“The vaccination rates in Surrey, which has a big South Asian population, is also very high,” said Gupta, adding that most long-haul truck drivers in Canada have been vaccinated.
“I don’t know of any South Asian truckers who are interested in being part of this protest movement,” said Gupta, whose magazine has about 25,000 readers monthly.
Statistics Canada has said that a higher proportion of the South Asian population (82.5 per cent) has “reported a willingness to receive the vaccine.” Similar high rates were reported for other visible minority communities.
Immigrants from South Asia have accounted for a massive shift in the demographics of Canada’s truck drivers, according to research conducted by Newcom Media’s editorial teams, drawing on more than 25 years of Canada Census data. Overall, almost one in five (17.8 per cent) of Canada’s truck drivers have South Asian backgrounds.
According to the data: “In Vancouver, South Asian immigrants now account for the majority (55.9 per cent) of drivers. The share in Toronto is not far behind at 53.9 per cent.”
Despite these numbers, the Freedom Convoy and protesters are mainly white Canadians, according to social media postings and on-site media reports.
Wesley Richards, the human resources manager for a B.C. trucking company, said the South Asian truck drivers and fleet owners he has talked to have no interest in the Freedom Convoy movement, which has raised over $9.6 million on its GoFundMe page.
“Most of them are vaccinated because they live in large households with elderly parents and in-laws…They don’t want to be bringing COVID back home from their trips,” he told NCM.
“It does not make sense for them to be part of this vaccine protest which has now become a political movement…These guys are more interested in being safe and supporting their families,” he said.
The owner of a trucking company which has been in business for over 50 years, who preferred to remain anonymous, said the Freedom Convoy should be raising issues like the crippling shortage of drivers and highway safety.
“The new border vaccine rules have had minimal impact on our operations, but highway conditions and a lack of drivers is taking a toll,” he said.
“My drivers were more interested in the recent rally in Vancouver and Surrey which called for better highway conditions rather than this vaccine protest in Ottawa.”
That rally was organized by a new trucking group comprising mainly of South Asian drivers from India called the West Coast Trucking Association (WCTA).
Driver shortage crisis
Meanwhile, the Canadian Trucking Alliance, (CTA) which has denounced the antics of the Freedom Convoy, is using the national focus on the industry to urge the government to take “priority action” to address the driver shortage crisis.
In a meeting with Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra and other stakeholders earlier this week, CTA president Stephen Laskowski said: “The labour shortages in trucking warrants priority action by the government of Canada to secure the supply chain and improve Canada’s economic recovery.”
The Alliance reported that the labour shortage in the trucking industry was already a significant problem before the pandemic, with the industry forecasting a shortfall of 55,000 drivers by the end of 2023. Current statistics show the industry is already well on its way to meeting this forecast and in the fourth quarter of 2021 has already surpassed 23,000 truck driver vacancies.
In a statement, the CTA said it would like to work with the Canadian government to develop a pre-approved known employer process for foreign drivers. It is also calling for a more streamlined pathways for foreign drivers to become permanent residents.
Editor’s note: Professional and ethical journalism guidelines state that all claims must be corroborated and backed up by evidence and credible sources who are clearly identified. However, this isn’t always possible to do when security and safety issues, for instance, are at play. Please, take a look at NCM's guide to learn more about the ethics behind naming sources and using anonymous ones.
- New Canadian Media, via Local Journalism Initiative