With supply lines being of particular importance these days, truckers are leveraging their role to encourage government to see things their way. Canada’s Freedom Convoy reached Ottawa on Friday to demand officials end pandemic-related restrictions it believes are wreaking havoc on the economy and the protests have yet to stop.
While this all started with U.S. and Canadian truckers urging the government to abandon border restrictions that forced all drivers to be vaccinated and confirmed as COVID free (starting January 15th) or be forced to quarantine for 14 days, activists are now asking Ottawa to abandon all mandates or prepare itself for worsening disruptions to already ailing supply chains. They’ve since been joined by Australian truckers, who have formed the ‘Convoy to Canberra’ for similar reasons. Future demonstrations are also being prepared for the United States.
Ottawa is now in day three of the Freedom Convoy protest. Demonstrators have been largely peaceful but truck blockades have made navigating parts of the city difficult, with local authorities still asking residents to avoid the downtown area. Ottawa Police have reported the opening of numerous investigations, though none pertain to direct acts of violence. Instead, they’re looking into a video clip of a woman dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial. Probes have also been launched into complaints issued about some of the signage used by demonstrators, citing the use of Nazi iconography. However, these were reportedly used to make direct and unfavorable comparisons between pandemic mandates and rules issued in 1930s Germany that resulted in making Jews second-class citizens shortly before the Holocaust.
Police also said they were looking into social media posts that could be construed as threatening. While Canada does have protections to freedom of expression, Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is less broad than the United States’ First Amendment, as it allows the government to set hard limits in regard to numerous categories — including hate speech, defamation, and general obscenity, among others.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to meet with protestors over the weekend after suggesting they held “unacceptable views” and were a bigoted, fringe minority. He’s doubled down on his assessment of the Freedom Convoy since then, adding that he has also been infected with COVID-19 and would be in isolation all week.
“Freedom of expression, assembly and association are cornerstones of democracy, but Nazi symbolism, racist imagery and desecration of war memorials are not,” Trudeau stated.
“This is not the story of our pandemic, our country, our people,” he continued. “My focus is standing with Canadians and getting through this pandemic.”
But Canadians seem split on the matter. Candice Bergen, deputy leader of the Conservative Party, has publicly said that the trucking protest represented millions of people who “have had enough of lockdowns and broken promises.” But Jagmeet Singh, leader of the progressive New Democrats, said the protests were “completely wrong” on Monday.
In the United States, former President Donald Trump praised the truckers by stating that they are “defending freedom.” It’s also known that President Joe Biden has been urged to suspend the updated border protocols (specifically by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney). But the Biden administration has not made any formal statements about the matter in Ottawa.
Regardless of the alleged popularity or lack thereof, the Freedom Convoy’s GoFundMe page has gone from $5 million to over $9 million (Canadian) in just a few days. Though the organization previously said it would be holding funds, it now appears that truckers can use at least a portion of the money to pay for fuel and travel expenses. Organizers have said they’re well-positioned for now and hinted that protests will not be stopped until all mandates are lifted.
This poses severe logistical problems for North America. Despite the Canadian Trucking Alliance estimating around 80 percent of its drivers as being vaccinated (government estimates are higher at 90 percent), Freedom Convoy organizers have repeatedly suggested that a majority of supportive members fall into that category and simply oppose the formal restrictions being instituted. They’ve also said that the convoy has only grown in strength this month — estimating that Canada is risking losing 20 percent of long-haul drivers, plus a sizable number of vaccinated drivers who support the cause.
Similar protests are rumored to be in the works for the United States, with Canadian truckers again joining with U.S. teamsters to run another convoy between California and Washington D.C.
Australians, who have been protesting some of the strictest lockdown protocols in the English-speaking world, are likewise plotting to demonstrate. Trucks and cars have already started converging on Canberra to call for an end to pandemic-related restrictions, with GoFundMe again freezing $160,000 until organizers can outline exactly how it’ll be spent. Australian media has also described protestors even less favorably than Canadian outlets handled the Freedom Convoy, discouraging businesses from working with demonstrators.
As things currently stand, Australian Federal Police have rallied around the doors of the Parliament House after a group of protestors slit away to demand a dialog with government representatives. Like the Canadian protests, demonstrators carried flags indicating a state of emergency while chanting slogans like “freedom now.”
So there’s your update. Truckers all over the planet are now mobilizing against government mandates in a time when the world absolutely needs them to do their jobs better and more efficiently than ever before.
While the semiconductor shortage gets the most coverage, a severe lack of qualified drivers has contributed immensely to ongoing economic issues. Delivery delays are commonplace and former just-in-time supply chains are in relative shambles. Companies concerned with transport logistics are now desperate for employees and are offering sizable bonuses in North America. Many places will even pay to train applicants so they can be certified for vehicles/payloads that are in the direst need of drivers.
The Biden administration has even pitched a “Trucking Action Plan” that’s aimed at replacing aging truckers with fresh blood. Thus far, the U.S. Department of Transportation has set aside $30 million to help states expedite the issuance of commercial driver’s licenses. Additional initiatives include expanding apprenticeship programs, reaching out to veterans that may want to become truckers, and launching a hiring initiative that prioritizes “underrepresented communities.” But we’re still probably a year away from those plans yielding any useful fruit, which means the truckers we currently have are also all there is.
Considering at least 70 percent of all goods in North America are wholly dependent upon commercial trucking to reach their final destination, truckers have a lot of leverage that nobody seems to be acknowledging with any seriousness. An ongoing protest encompassing even a fraction of the already overtaxed community will not go unnoticed. Demonstrating truckers have already said border restrictions run the risk of spoiling food deliveries and delaying manufacturing, so they see little logistical difference between wasting two weeks quarantined at the border or spending that time protesting on the road.
[Images: Bing Wen/Shutterstock; Michel Elzo/Shutterstock]
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