A convoy of big rigs and passenger vehicles heading for Ottawa to protest vaccine requirements in the trucking industry will include some drivers from the Prince Albert area.
Ryan Mihilewicz, one of the organizers at the Prince Albert send off on Jan. 24, said they are not anti-vaccine, they are against mandated vaccinations.
“Our plan is we want to end mandates. This isn’t an anti-vax rally,” said Mihilewicz, standing outside the Lake Country Co-op’s cardlock fuel location north of the city. “This is an ‘end mandates and give Canadians our freedom back rally’.”
About 100 people in passenger vehicles were at the cardlock with many coming from surrounding areas.
“I’ve been getting hundreds and hundreds of calls every day. We’ve got people from the North, we’ve got people from every direction coming,” he said. “It’s overwhelming. It’s crazy and pretty exciting.”
A portion of those gathered were driving to Saskatoon where they would meet a convoy from Northern Alberta before heading towards Regina where they will stay overnight.
Tuesday morning they drive eastwards to Kenora, Ontario, before heading to Ottawa.
Mihilewicz said he has been told the convoy was 75 kilometres long before it reached Calgary, where it will pick up more drivers and also from Swift Current.
“It’s going to be massive,” he said.
Mihilewicz said that their goal is to have a peaceful demonstration as they head to join other trucks driving from western Canadian locations.
“We want this to be a peaceful rally. Anything that’s going on, if there’s violence, it won’t be part of our crew, I can assure you of that,” he said. “Anyone in our crew that does create violence will be removed instantly and the police will be called.”
The entire group plans to be in Ottawa on January 24.
Premier Scott Moe said the same day that he sees the federal mandate as unnecessary, given the high vaccination rates in the trucking industry already.
“First and foremost the vast majority of our truckers already are vaccinated and we have tools in the way of rapid tests that our truckers can use. They didn’t have these tools available to them a year ago either,” Moe said in a news conference.
He also said that the trucking industry is essential and has been operating in a safe manner since the start of the pandemic.
“This is an essential service, these are the folks that are delivering our products, our food in many cases to our communities in Saskatchewan and Canada and they have operated safely throughout the pandemic, long before we had access to vaccines, long before we had many of the tools that have proven to be effective in our battle against the omicron wave here today,” said Moe.
One of the main organizers of the rally is Pat King, a western separatist and part of the Yellow Vests Canada group.
King has said publicly that he sees government measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, which has killed 32,294 Canadians so far, including 77 yesterday, as too far-reaching.
“If we don’t put a stop to this now, ladies and gentlemen, I’m telling you, you won’t recognize your home country,” he said in an online interview on Jan. 18.
Once in Ottawa, he told a talk show host, they plan to address the Senate.
The convoy does not have the support of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, which says the vast majority of its members are indeed vaccinated and rates mirror that of the general population.
“The Government of Canada and the United States have now made being vaccinated a requirement to cross the border. This regulation is not changing so, as an industry, we must adapt and comply with this mandate,” said CTA president Stephen Laskowski. “The only way to cross the border, in a commercial truck or any other vehicle, is to get vaccinated.”
The CTA issued the statement on Jan. 22, saying it strongly disapproves of any protests on public roads, 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.
Instead, it suggested members that want to publicly express their opinions on government policies do so by holding a legal and organized event on Parliament Hill or by contacting their local Member of Parliament.
“What is not acceptable is disrupting the motoring public on highways and commerce at the border,” said the statement.
The US has required all foreigners crossing their border to be fully vaccinated since Jan. 22.
As a federally regulated industry, Canadian truckers will be required to be vaccinated early this year, as were those in the airline, rail and marine industries.
The Government of Canada says there are about 18,500 employers in the affected industries that employ 955,000 people including pipelines, banks and postal services.
Following a short phase-in period, employees will be required to show proof of vaccination. Those that don’t will be unable to work. Exemptions are granted for medical reasons.