OTTAWA, Ontario — Cross-border trucker Erik Mueller gazed out from the cab of his Western Star on Saturday as a sea of protesters and pedestrian vehicles descended on Canada’s parliament to protest an array of grievances — including COVID-19 vaccine mandates at the border.
Mueller, an owner-operator based in Alberta, decided to get here ahead of the larger convoys inching their way into the small downtown. As of early Saturday afternoon, it appeared that several hundred trucks had made their way to the area called Parliament Hill — far outnumbered by passenger vehicles.
“Thousands will be coming,” he said, as supporters occasionally knocked at his window offering items including toilet paper, water and snacks.
So far the protest has been peaceful, but several incidents received condemnation from the trucking industry. Some protesters were spotted carrying flags with swastikas, while others danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and an inverted Canadian flag was placed on a statute of athlete and activist Terry Fox.
“It’s disgusting, but I don’t think it’s truck drivers doing it,” said Shelley Walker, CEO of the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada.
While the protest — dubbed the Freedom Convoy — began with the cross-border truckers demanding a repeal of the mandates, it has since become a rallying point for Canadians angry at a multitude of COVID-19-related restrictions as well as the Trudeau government as a whole.
“It’s an opportunity because many things are not right in Canada,” he said.
Mueller, who isn’t vaccinated, has been unable to move freight across the U.S.-Canada border since both countries implemented vaccine mandates. He rejects Canadian health authorities’ assertions that the COVID vaccines are safe and protect against severe illness and death.
Convoy gets pushback from within trucking industry
Despite the considerable publicity surrounding the convoy — including support from the likes of popular podcast host Joe Rogan and Donald Trump — the protest has Canadian trucking industry detractors.
On Saturday, Ontario carrier Speedy Transport staged a counter convoy “representing the next generation and cultural diversity.” The Canadian Trucking Alliance, the largest industry group in the country, has come out against the protest and maintains that the vast majority of Canadian drivers are vaccinated.
”While a number of Canadians are in Ottawa to voice their displeasure over this mandate, it also appears that a great number of these protestors have no connection to the trucking industry and have a separate agenda beyond a disagreement over cross border vaccine requirements,” CTA President Steve Laskowski said in a statement Saturday.
“As these protests unfold over the weekend, we ask the Canadian public to be aware that many of the people you see and hear in media reports do not have a connection to the trucking industry.”
The CTA’s position against the convoy has drawn rebukes from truckers in the convoy, including a large number of owner-operators. Truckers assembled in front of parliament include vaccinated and unvaccinated drivers and those that run only domestically.
“What brought me out here is the choice to fight for freedom for everybody,” said owner-operator Andrew Broe, who runs freight within Ontario.
Ahmed Meikllach, who works in sales in Montreal, said the cause of the truckers has galvanized Canadians frustrated with the government measures fight COVID-19.
“We finally found a leader — a leader to follow,” Meikllach said of the truckers in the convoy. “That’s what the whole movement was missing.”
It remains to be seen how long the convoy will remain in Ottawa. Mueller said he has no plans to leave until border vaccine mandates are dropped, and Canada’s provinces abandon mask requirements.
“I’ll stay as long as it takes,” he said.