Canada

Conservative MPs cheer on trucker convoy, voice opposition to vaccine mandates

OTTAWA —
Conservative MPs are publicly cheering on the trucker convoy that’s making its way across the country with the intent of converging onto Parliament Hill this weekend, voicing opposition to the federal government’s mandatory vaccination policies.

The so-called “freedom convoy” was sparked by outrage over a vaccine mandate recently imposed on cross-border truckers, though the convoy has garnered support from anti-vaccine mandate groups who feel requirements to be vaccinated against COVID-19 curb their freedoms, and among those who dislike Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

While organizers say they are running a peaceful and law-abiding demonstration, experts have raised concerns over the online discourse related to the trucker convoy. From social media posts expressing anti-government and violent sentiments to a suggestion that the event could be like a Canadian version of the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, experts CTVNews.ca spoke with said that the messaging and rhetoric is veering into dangerous territory.

The convoy plans to arrive in Ottawa on Jan. 29 with the intention of taking its “fight to the doorsteps of our federal government,” to demand the vaccine mandates end.

With Parliament not back in session until Jan. 31 and the hybrid virtual format still in place it’s unlikely many federal officials will be in the parliamentary precinct when the convoy rolls in, though one Conservative MP has said he’s already in town ready for its arrival.

“I want to meet those truckers when they come here this week,” said Alberta MP Martin Shields in a video posted on his Twitter account.

The Parliamentary Protective Service has told CTV News that it is aware of the planned protest and is “closely monitoring the situation.”

“The Service adjusts its security posture on Parliament Hill and within the parliamentary precinct as required,” said the Parliamentary Protective Service in a statement.

Saskatchewan Conservative MP and former party leader Andrew Scheer met with the convoy as it passed through Regina on Monday night. 

“Our position is that no one should lose their job for a healthcare decision. Truckers were essential workers for two years during the pandemic, and the government hasn’t explained why things need to change,” he said to supporters.

Scheer is one of several MPs who have voiced support online for the initiative as well.

In a tweet thanking the truckers, he accused the prime minister of being “the biggest threat to freedom in Canada,” while former Conservative leadership candidate and Ontario MP Leslyn Lewis suggested the vaccine mandates “promote segregation.”

Other Conservatives, including MPs Pierre Poilievre and Garnett Genuis have called the federal mandate Trudeau’s “vaccine vendetta.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has repeatedly dodged questions about his stance on the convoy. While he has been raising concerns with the vaccine mandate for truckers for several weeks and his caucus is soliciting signatures for a petition calling for the mandate to be reversed, he has not said whether he supports the protests.

“I support getting as many people vaccinated as possible, including truckers,” he told reporters on Monday. “It’s not for the leader of the opposition or political party to attend a protest on the Hill or a convoy.”

The Conservative leader hasn’t said whether he will meet with the truckers once they arrive, but said he has been meeting with the Canadian Trucking Alliance, a group that recently condemned the convoy and its disruption on Canadian roadways as the wrong way to express dissatisfaction with government policies. 

However, on Tuesday a spokesperson for O’Toole’s office said he misspoke, and has met with other trucking groups including the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada, but not the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

Asked about the convoy at a press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the federal Conservative Party and conservative politicians in this country of trying to raise fears about the supply chain to erode support for vaccination mandates.

“When we talk about this protest that’s happening, I’m not sure how much of it is connected to supply chains anymore,” said British Columbia NDP MP Taylor Bachrach on CTV News Channel’s Power Play on Tuesday. “It’s grown into something else entirely.”

People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier told supporters in an email that he plans on attending what he described as the “biggest demonstration in generations,” and an “unprecedented moment in Canadian history.” 

FUNDS RAISED REMAIN FROZEN

The convoy has been fundraising to cover participants’ food, fuel and lodging costs, and despite an ongoing freeze on the funds as CTV News has reported, donations keep rolling in. 

As of Tuesday evening, the convoy has raised more than $4.8 million from donors around the world. GoFundMe had temporarily stopped organizers from using the money, with organizers saying that any funds left over from the cross-Canada drive will be donated.

As of Tuesday, GoFundMe told CTV News that it is still working with the organizer to “gather information and documentation about how funds are being distributed.”

“Once a withdrawal plan is provided by the organizer, our team is on standby to safely and quickly deliver the funds,” Rachel Hollis, GoFundMe’s director of communications said in an email.

TRUCKING GROUP DISTANCES

After coming out last weekend to denounce the protests as they began gaining attention, the Canadian Trucking Alliance issued a joint statement with federal ministers on Tuesday doubling down on their support for the federal vaccination policy for truckers.

“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.

Under the policy, unvaccinated Canadian truckers will have to be fully vaccinated and show proof of a recent negative test result in order to avoid a 14-day quarantine when crossing back into this country from the U.S. As well, unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated non-Canadian truckers will not be able to enter without proof of a valid medical contraindication to the COVID-19 vaccines.

MIRRORING U.S. POLICY BANS UNVAXXED

While the Canadian Trucking Alliance has voiced its backing of truckers getting vaccinated—as the majority have— in the lead up to the mandate coming into effect Laskowski was among those in the industry sounding alarm bells that the policy coming into effect now would sideline thousands of drivers, exacerbate the trucker shortage, and put further strains on the supply chain.

At the time he noted that while Canada’s policy would make an impact, so long as the reciprocal U.S. policy is in place banning unvaccinated foreign nationals from crossing the northern border with Canada and the southern border with Mexico, these drivers will not be able to cross the border regardless of what Canada’s rules are.

“What we really have here… is the need for Ottawa and Washington to both agree to remove their foreign national requirements,” Laskowski said on CTV News Channel on Jan. 13.

While there was some initial scrambling and confusion due to a messaging mistake from the Canada Border Services Agency about exemptions to the policy that resulted in some unvaccinated drivers having to quarantine, the government maintains the industry had ample time to prepare for the mandate to come into effect.

Alghabra told CTV News Channel’s Power Play on Monday that he’s planning to meet next week with stakeholders about supply chain concerns and the causes of them— including the ongoing pandemic and labour-related struggles— amid increased attention on shortages on some grocery store shelves.

With files from CTV National News Senior Political Correspondent Glen McGregor and CTV News’ Ben Cousins 



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