The much-talked-about 'Freedom Convoy' entered Ontario today, but not everyone is happy about it or its intentions.
Earlier this month, both Canada and the United States imposed vaccination mandates on truck drivers crossing the border. That was met with opposition from some people who started organizing a rolling protest across Canada that will end up on Parliament Hill in Ottawa this weekend.
Jeremy Ivany, who is from western Ontario and has been driving trucks for 14 years, called the convoy a huge inconvenience.
“I followed through, got vaccinated and yet these steering-wheel-holding clowns are holding up traffic, the border, emergency lanes. To prove what? Because they demand satisfaction? You're not making a difference, you're causing a scene,” Ivany told said.
”I knew the mandates, I followed the proper protocol and am still working. I didn't sit around waiting, then ask to speak to the manager because I'm not getting what I deserve or think I deserve. It’s a cancel and entitlement culture," he added.
In anticipation of the convoy's arrival, Ontario Provincial Police reminded protesters to “obey all traffic and safety laws and behave in a manner that ensures safety for all users of the roadways.”
Despite online supporters saying nearly 50,000 trucks were coming to Ottawa, it was earlier reported by OPP that just over 100 trucks had crossed into Ontario from Manitoba on Thursday morning.
A GoFundMe page dedicated to the protest was started on Jan. 14 and has raised around $6.3 million. One of the organizers is linked to the Maverick Party of Canada, formerly Wexit Canada, which sought to separate from Canada.
Tom Chevvers, who was just leaving the Petro-Canada gas station on Highway 89 in Cookstown on Thursday afternoon, says he doesn’t feel right about the politics of it all.
“I’m vaxxed. That was my choice. I don’t like that many of my fellow truckers can’t work regularly because of their choice, but I’m not there (in the protest) today because I just don’t agree with some person I’ve never met getting over $4 million,” Chevvers said. “This is going to end wrong and a lot of truly and legitimately concerned people are going to get screwed over, maybe with no way home.”
When asked if he thought 50,000 truckers were crossing into Ontario, Chevvers laughed.
“I fully believe there will be a lot of people in cars with flags in Ottawa. There will absolutely be some trucks, maybe 400 to 700. But 50,000? Anyone who spends the day with us truck drivers knows we like to tell stories and exaggerate,” he said. “Listen, I’m not for the mandate — get rid of it — but let's also not buy into this political protest, which is what I call it.”
Stuart Pound, the vice-president of business development at Larway Transportation Barrie, says he's sympathetic to the plight of many drivers and the essential service they provide. He also said rules are rules, particularly for Larway and others like them.
“We’re a federally regulated company. We really have to follow the rules here,” Pound explained. “Everyone here at Larway is fully vaccinated and are issued the proper and effective masks, have the proper sanitization kits and the units (trucks) they operate in are all basically walk-in condominiums.
"They’re probably safer in the truck than in an office, so I get the frustration drivers have," he added.
Larway has approximately 20 drivers and predominantly operates in the U.S. as far south as Texas and Alabama and points in between.
“We go everywhere and some of the places we go into, we find out that those facilities are only about 70 per cent vaccinated,” Pound said. “So it is a concern for us and it is why I’m happy Larway has a fully vaxxed staff.”
Pound said Thursday has been relatively quiet and he has not heard of any disruptions from his drivers on what was supposed to be a busy day on the highways.
“Nothing happening really; no disruptions that I’ve heard of. To be honest, I think a lot of concerned drivers want to protest peacefully, which is their right, but there are many who are hanging out on the street corners and making it about their own purposes,” he said. “The intent seems to have changed and that's unfortunate.”
The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) says it is not commenting further than the joint statement they issued Saturday with the Canadian Trucking Association (CTA). In that statement, the associations said “the vast majority of the Canadian trucking industry is vaccinated with the overall industry vaccination rate among truck drivers closely mirroring that of the general public.”
“The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) does not support and strongly disapproves of any protests on public roadways, highways, and bridges. CTA believes such actions – especially those that interfere with public safety – are not how disagreements with government policies should be expressed," the statement said.
"Members of the trucking industry who want to publicly express displeasure over government policies can choose to hold an organized, lawful event on Parliament Hill or contact their local MP. What is not acceptable is disrupting the motoring public on highways and commerce at the border.”
A man who identified himself as “Wyld Bill" was parked in his new Peterbilt at the Barrie ONroute at around 2 p.m. He was just checking the weather in northern Ontario before heading out Thursday.
“They’re telling me it's bad up that way, weather-wise,” he said. “I don’t know, I’ll have to take ’er easy because I've got to get there.”
While he didn’t have much to say on the convoy and border situations, because he just came back to work after being ill for a few weeks, he did say he had a new truck to pay off.
“I have to work to pay this off,” Wyld Bill said, slapping the door of his blue truck.
He's unable to cross the border due to a medical issue, so the restrictions don't affect him too much.
“I’d be there if I could. I feel bad for many of the drivers. But the truth is work has to get done. It just has to."