Why Are Truckers Angry?
On January 20th, The Canadian government passed a law stating that all non-U.S. essential workers crossing land borders between Canada and the United States, including truck drivers and nurses, must be adequately vaccinated against COVID-19. If you are not vaccinated you are likely to have to quarantine for 14 days upon entrance followed with strict testing regulations. The bill has since been criticised as government overreach and impracticable to implement. According to the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), the rule may force 32,000, or 20%, of the 160,000 cross-border truck drivers in Canada and the United States off the road.
What Has Been the Reaction?
On January 27th, a convoy of anti-vaccine Canadian truckers and supporters marched to the country's capital, Ottawa, causing a traffic jam and impeding the US-Canadian border crossing. The "Freedom Convoy," as the truckers call themselves, formed in reaction to the vaccination requirement for trucks crossing borders between Canada and the United States. Since then, others have joined the cause. From the western province of Alberta, moving east to Quebec City, thousands of Canadians have hit the streets, joining the truckers to protest the nation's Covid-19 restrictions. With persistent and noisy horn honking, protesters are demanding governments at all levels lift their health restrictions, including vaccine and mask mandates, lockdowns and restrictions on businesses and gatherings. The movement has grown beyond vaccinations and is now about the entire COVID ordeal.
What Is the Government Doing About This?
In response to more than a week of trucker demonstrations against COVID restrictions, the Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, has declared a state of emergency. He has not specified what restrictions he would enact, but police indicated on Sunday that they will ramp up enforcement, including possible arrests of anyone bringing supplies such as petrol, toilet paper, and food to the demonstrators. A state of emergency will give the city additional powers, including access to equipment required by frontline workers and emergency services.
An Ugly Side of the Protests:
Police have so far refused to call an end to the demonstration, citing the risk of escalating tensions. They claim to be investigating complaints of criminal offences such as hate crimes and desecration of public property. Police have expressed alarm about how the convoy has drawn far-right and extremist groups, and revealed on Sunday that they were working on more than 60 criminal investigations.
Stephanie Carvon, an Ottawa resident and former national security analyst for the Canadian government has said, “there have been racist signs, there have been a lot of reports of people being assaulted and harassed if they wear a mask." Rioters, by framing their protests through the pandemic, have managed to conceal extreme views without many realising how offensive these may come across.
Large protests and events are not uncommon in Canada's national capital and parliament. However, the city's police chief has frequently said that there is no precedent for the ‘Freedom Convoy’ in terms of organisation, financing, and commitment.
With no apparent end in sight, police have been met with irritation from many neighbours who aks why they haven't done more to terminate a demonstration that has interrupted their everyday lives. Declaring a state of emergency is the latest action taken in recent days by city officials to increase pressure - but it's unclear when the standoff will end.