By Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter – River Valley Sun
The Truckers Freedom Convoy will roll past Woodstock Thursday afternoon, Jan. 27, on route to join fellow drivers from across Canada in Ottawa on Saturday, Jan. 29.
Atlantic Canadian organizers ask supporters to gather at the Beardsley Road overpass near Woodstock late Thursday afternoon to encourage drivers as they pass.
The convoy began as a trucker protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates imposed by the Canadian and U.S. federal governments for truckers hauling across the Canada-U.S. border. The Canadian event organizers raised more than $4.5 million in donations through a GoFundMe account with growing support.
The Freedom Trucker Convoy also garnered widespread support beyond the trucking industry as it plans to take its message to the front door of Parliament in Ottawa on Saturday.
Florenceville-Bristol trucker Barney Greene, who’s not directly involved in organizing the convoy, said the international protest reaches beyond vaccine mandate or trucker issues.
He said the convoy’s goal is to deliver a message to the government that its COVID-19 policies hurt Canadians across the board, including small businesses, families and children.
“They’ve upturned everyone’s life,” he said.
Greene said most people supported the measures when the pandemic began two years ago, but many now question the federal and provincial government’s actions and mixed messaging.
“I think at this point people want to get back to life as normal,” he said. “They’ve done everything asked of them, but they’re no better off.”
Greene, a former long-haul trucker who now drives a log truck in western New Brunswick and Maine, says he has “too much on the go” personally to become actively involved in the convoy. Still, he said, he fully supports his fellow drivers involved and the message they are delivering.
Greene has actively pushed for the interest of truckers in the past. Last year, he and Martin Broadmann established Truckers United Inc., serving as its president. While he recently stepped back from his central role, Greene said, Brodmann and others teamed up with convoy organizers locally and federally.
Greene said vaccine mandates didn’t play into the establishment of Trucker United Inc., but COVID testing policies for truckers travelling across the border did.
While most truckers experience limited contact with people when delivering or picking up cargo on the American side of the border, Greene said, even fully vaccinated drivers, like himself, were forced to test every time they re-entered Canada.
He said truckers work on tight schedules and have little time to waste on the road.
Greene said the truckers he knows were careful not to spread the virus.
“We’re all on the same page. If someone felt sick, they were willing to go for tests,” he said.
Green takes issue with some people spinning the planned convoy as an “anti-vax” movement.
“To be clear, I’m not an anti-vaxxer,” he said, “most of these people aren’t anti-vaxxers.”
Greene supports what he calls the convoy’s effort to remind government leaders not to overstep their power and ignore the Canadian Charter of Rights when imposing rules and mandates costing people opportunities to make a living.
Jean-Marie Picard, executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Truckers Association, said the organization opposes the convoy.
“We support our drivers and our companies, but we can’t support a convoy,” he said.
Picard said truckers lost control of the planned protest as other interest groups hijacked the message.
“It lost its original message,” he said. “It’s now freedom for Canadians.”
Picard said the trucking industry, through the Canadian Trucking Alliance, tried to influence the federal government policy and limit the impact on transportation, but government made its decision.
“It’s in place, and it’s not going away,” he said.
Picard added that both the U.S. and Canadian federal governments have the same vaccination mandates.
He said the role of organizations like the APTA is to find ways to work within the rules and ensure goods continue to move.
Picard said most of the companies his organization represents did not enforce vaccine mandates but strongly encouraged drivers to get the shots.
Picard said the convoy as currently planned should not cause supply-chain interruptions, but that could change if they set up blockades.
Greene said most of the organizers and truckers involved in the convoy don’t want to interrupt the delivery of goods and services. He said several drivers and companies who support the convoy would remain on the job to ensure goods continue to move.
“Truckers are not looking to send you to bare grocery shelves,” Greene said. “They aren’t looking to starve your family. They’re looking to send a message.”
However, he said, driver shortages already create supply-chain challenges, noting vaccine mandates taking 40,000 truckers out of the system only “exacerbates” the problem.
“You’ve created your own problem,” he said.
Across Canada, as support for the convoy grew and more voices joined the mix, the message became muddled as some more extreme views clouded moderate views.
In the meantime, GoFundMe funds raised are on hold until convoy organizers provide a clear plan for the money.
Politically, the federal government shows no sign of turning back from the vaccine mandates, as demonstrated in a recent statement released by three ministers and the Canadian Trucking Alliance representative.
“The Government of Canada and the Canadian Trucking Alliance both agree that vaccination, used in combination with preventative public health measures, is the most effective tool to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for Canadians, and to protect public health,” reads the statement co-signed by Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, and President of the Canadian Trucking Alliance Stephen Laskowski.
Atlantic Canada convoy organizers said truckers would gather Thursday, July 27, at Aulac, near the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border, before heading west towards Ottawa. They expect the truckers to pass the Beardsley Road overpass between 3:30 and 4 p.m.