A group of Canadian truckers is making its way to the nation's capital of Ottawa to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates affecting the trucking industry on both sides of the northern border.
Dubbed the "Freedom Convoy," the large group of vehicles left Vancouver on Sunday and is expected to reach Ottawa by Jan. 29, Reuters reported.
Benjamin Dichter, spokesperson for the convoy, told the Toronto Sun that the protest is about lifting vaccine mandates for truckers at the Canadian-U.S. border and other issues relating to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including forcing drivers to wear masks in trucks.
As of Thursday afternoon, the Freedom Convoy 2022 GoFundMe had raised $6.1 million and the group’s Facebook page had amassed 213,108 followers.
Ottawa police estimate that there could be up to 2,000 protesters in the city this weekend, as truckers from eastern Canadian provinces and the United States are expected to join.
Noncompliance with government vaccine mandates on both sides of the northern border could result in some 20% of the 160,000 cross-border American and Canadian truckers being taken off the road, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) estimates. The CTA said it does not support the truckers' protest against the vaccine mandates.
"The Canadian Trucking Alliance does not support and strongly disapproves of any protests on public roadways, highways, and bridges,” the organization said in a statement. “CTA believes such actions — especially those that interfere with public safety — are not how disagreements with government policies should be expressed.”
Scheduled to pass through the greater Toronto area Thursday, the local organizer of the trucker convoy, Dave Steenburg, told the Toronto Star they are working closely with Ontario Provincial Police.
"Safety is a key priority as we pass through [Toronto]," Steenburg said. "Lanes will be left open for traffic to safely merge on and off the highway."
Beginning Jan. 15, Canada required unvaccinated truckers crossing back into Canada to be tested for COVID-19, as well as undergo a 14-day quarantine period. The United States issued a similar mandate for its border as of Jan. 22.
According to the Star, several industry and business groups have been strongly lobbying against the mandate, including the country’s largest association of small- and medium-sized businesses, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. CFIB President Dan Kelly told the Star on Wednesday that the vaccine mandate is creating supply shortages and driving up shipping costs.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the convoy Wednesday, CTV News reported.
"The small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing do not represent the views of Canadians who have been there for each other, who know of that following the science and stepping up to protect each other is the best way to continue to ensure our freedoms, our rights, our values, as a country," Trudeau said.
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