A group of truckers has garnered millions in fundraising dollars from droves of supporters as it drives across the country to protest vaccine mandates, despite the vast majority of big-riggers having been jabbed.
Setting off from Vancouver on Sunday, the “Freedom Convoy” had raised more than $3.5 million from some 46,500 donors — about $75 per donor on average — by Monday afternoon in support of truck drivers poised to converge on Ottawa this weekend, according to the campaign’s GoFundMe page.
The fledgling fleet is demonstrating against the federal requirement that essential workers — truckers included — be vaccinated if they want to avoid a 14-day quarantine after crossing the border from the United States. The rule came into effect Jan. 15.
Harwil Farms Mobile Feeds, whose 12 drivers deliver feed to farms and livestock to slaughterhouses in southern Ontario, donated $5,000 to the convoy, making it among the top contributors.
Owner Wendy Metcalfe said she believes vaccination is unnecessary.
“It doesn’t seem to be working very well, does it? You’ve got people that are double, triple vaxxed, and they’re still getting the Omicron,” she said.
“I’m definitely against the mandates, and I’m way more than skeptical.”
Research from studies in the U.S., Germany, South Africa and the United Kingdom indicate vaccines are less effective against the Omicron variant than earlier strains of the virus, but also that booster shots beef up antibodies to reduce the chance of symptomatic infection, severe illness or death. A third dose is also at least 90 per cent effective at preventing hospitalization for COVID-19, including for Omicron, according to a study released Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Despite the money and effort invested into the convoy, Metcalfe expects Ottawa to stick with the mandate for cross-border truckers, as well as an upcoming requirement that all federally regulated workers get vaccinated. A deadline has not yet been set.
She insisted the convoy’s fundraising figure may well be necessary, estimating the cost of diesel for a single tractor heading from Vancouver to Ottawa would range up to $5,000.
A slew of semis rolled through Calgary early Monday morning, though many may not be bound for Ottawa as some truckers sought to show solidarity for a few hours rather than 3,500 kilometres. Other groups such as a Montreal contingent are slated to leave the West Island on Saturday at 7 a.m. for a 200-kilometre trip — at far lower cost in food and fuel.
Regina police said Monday they expected about 400 trucks to pass through the city at around 5 p.m., with another 800 agreeing to swing around the provincial capital via a highway bypass.
The organizer is listed as Tamara Lich, a secretary on the board of the Maverick Party. Formerly known as Wexit Canada, the fledgling party advocates for the independence of Western Canada or constitutional changes that would benefit the West.
Reese Evans, general manager of Evans Trucking, said 14 of his 36 drivers who typically haul lumber across the Alberta-Montana border are unvaccinated — and largely out of commission following the vaccine mandate. His outfit donated $5,000 to the campaign.
“We as a company don’t believe that the government — that it’s their right to tell people what they should or shouldn’t be doing with their bodies,” he said. “That should always be an autonomous decision for each individual person.”
Evans said the new rule, in conjunction with the U.S. decision to bar unvaccinated Canadian truckers from entering the country as of last Saturday — Canada has the same policy toward American drivers — would only exacerbate supply shortages and price hikes.
The funding support for the convoy suggests broad popular support, he said, though public opinion polls since August show a vast majority of Canadians back vaccine mandates for essential workers.
On Saturday the Canadian Trucking Alliance condemned protests on roads and highways. But Evans said planned demonstrations near border crossing points across the country this weekend are safe and legal.
“Nobody is stopping on the highway with their vehicles and crossing the roads,” he said.Rather the protest convoys will see semis “just moving very, very slowly in a big circle … parade-style.”
Vashty Dansereau, a kinesiologist who lives outside Calgary, woke up early Monday to see the truckers off at 7 a.m. — part of a wave of sign-wielding supporters who turned out in several cities along the route.
“I think the goal is just to be heard, because what I’m finding is that there’s only one side of information out there,” said Dansereau, who said she donated to the convoy because she is “skeptical” of the vaccines.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2022.
Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press