Canada

‘Stop with the mandates. Stop with the mixed messages’

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Thousands of Canadian truckers and their supporters enroute to Ottawa in protest of vaccine mandates are preparing to make a stop in Sudbury on Friday morning.

The trucker convoy, which departed from BC on Jan. 23 and quickly gained momentum across the country, is demanding that federal and provincial governments terminate COVID-19 vaccine mandates and passport systems.

Local support for the movement, dubbed Freedom Convoy 2022, is steadily growing as groups prepare to meet the convoy at the Petro-Pass Truck Stop on Regent Street at 10 a.m. and other locations throughout the city.

One Sudbury woman said she doesn’t know what kind of impact the trucker convoy will have on government policy, but she credits the movement for uniting Canadians during the pandemic.

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“The people are standing up, and we want our voices to be heard. This movement isn’t just for the truckers anymore, it’s for everyone,” said Debbie Thomas.

“Stop with the mandates. Stop with the mixed messages. We’ve been doing this for over two years now, and we’ve got to move on. Enough is enough.”

Thomas, who has been personally impacted by vaccine mandates, said that she has many friends who have either lost their jobs or had their income reduced due to policies implemented by the federal and provincial governments.

“Everybody is struggling right now because of this – nurses are struggling, teachers are struggling, children are being traumatized, loved ones in old age homes can’t see their families,” she said.

“This movement, for many, has gone beyond simple vaccine mandates. It’s more powerful than that. People are fed up, and the government needs to stop discriminating against those who have made a personal choice not to get their shot.”

When Thomas first heard the news that a convoy decided to embark on a cross-country journey to Ottawa, she said she felt hopeful.

“This is it,” she said. “I thought, it’s actually going to happen. Canada is finally stepping up, and we’re finally saying that we can do this. We can change this.”

The Freedom Convoy 2022 was started in response to a federal policy that requires Canadian truckers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to avoid a 14-day quarantine when they cross the border from the United States.

The policy took effect on Jan. 15 – and later that day, a small team of Alberta truckers, their family members, and friends decided to do something about it.

“Although our initial convoy estimated to be 1,600 trucks, that number significantly increased to 36,000 trucks in just a few days,” said a release written by Freedom Convoy 2022 organizers.

“It is now estimated that the number of heavy trucks heading to Ottawa is closer to 50,000.”

COVID-19 vaccine mandates across Ontario and Canada have been criticized by experts, particularly in industries that were already experiencing labour shortages.

A local example is when Health Sciences North terminated 53 hospital employees for refusing to get the jab at the beginning of December.

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While unions recognize the importance of COVID-19 vaccination in high-risk settings like hospitals, a spokesperson for the Ontario Nurses’ Association said that while it supports addressing vaccine hesitancy, it does not support “penalizing and terminating nurses when we need them most.”

Comparatively, experts are concerned that COVID-19 vaccine mandates for truckers will exacerbate supply chain issues and labour shortages in the food industry.

“The vaccine mandate disqualified 8,000 to 16,000 Canadian truckers from crossing the border; on the American side, about 125,000 drivers can’t cross,” said Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at Dalhousie University in a story for Troy Media.

“With such a significant shortage of drivers, food access will undoubtedly become an issue.”

He added that food will likely continue to cross the border, but Canadians can expect it to be more costly.

“Reports suggest that getting a truck to cover the Canadian market is 25 per cent more expensive than it was just a few days ago,” said Charlebois.

A spokesperson for food distributor Metro Inc. echoed Charlebois’s comments in a webcast about the grocer’s first-quarter financial results.

“On the vaccination of truckers, it will have mostly an inflationary effect on the cost of merchandise coming in from the US, produce especially,” said Metro President and CEO Eric La Fleche.

“We saw an uptick in transportation costs right away, but we’re still getting the merchandise. Our transportation providers are able to service us for the most part. There’s always exceptions, but we’re getting the merchandise.”

La Fleche said that despite the inflationary issue that comes with the vaccine requirement, Metro is still working hard to provide its customers with the best experience possible.

“Our teams are doing a pretty good job under the circumstances,” he said, adding that the spread of the Omicron variant has also put pressure on the supply chain for different reasons.

In particular, he said the last four or five weeks were especially tough given the spike in COVID-19 cases throughout the province.

“Our suppliers felt it, so we have been challenged for sure. You might have seen some holes,” he said, referring to the emptier-than-usual grocery store shelves.

“There’s not panic in stores and no real hoarding. I think consumers understand what’s happening after two years of the pandemic, but clearly there are more holes than we would like to offer to our customers.”

There is no consensus from local buyers on whether grocery store shelves in the Sudbury area are emptier than usual.

“I actually find that our grocery store in Lively has even more product than usual,” said one of The Sudbury Star’s readers in a Facebook post.

Another reader said that Food Basics on Notre Dame was “really empty” in the meat and frozen food sections.

“Alarming that it seems to be the stores people access for better prices from reading the comments,” she said.

Other readers noted the increase in food prices and speculated on the anxiety it would cause for local families.

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“Last week, I went in and bought $200 worth of groceries and paid $300. Twice a month at that rate means $2,400 more per year,” said one reader.

“Imagine the pain of feeling inadequate because you can’t feed your kids.”

The owner of Battistelli’s Your Independent Grocer in Lively said that supply chain issues have been ongoing throughout the pandemic for a number of different reasons.

“Early on, it was due to a little bit of panic buying. At this point, the only supply chain issues we’re seeing are the residual effects from the weather in the GTA last week,” said Brent Batistelli.

“There’s an odd item here and there in terms of shortages, but a lot of that is a vendor issue or a labour issue. I mean, we underwent some issues with Kellogg’s cereals but that was relating to a strike in the States.”

Batistelli added that supply chain issues take some time to resolve.

“As things subside, we will get back into shape. For example, people have been asking us about Kellogg’s cereal. They say, the strike is over, how come the counters aren’t full?” he said.

“The whole North American pipeline was emptied. It takes a little while to fill that up with Rice Krispies.”

The Freedom Convoy 2022 addressed supply chain issues in the release it issued earlier this week.

“The supply chain has been in shambles for well over a year due to the various provincial governments in Canada imposing draconian and illiberal restrictions on business activity and the entire Canadian economy,” said organizers.

“As soon as our list of demands have been met and the government reopens the country and abandons these digital passports and mandates … we will do our absolute best to ensure the supply chain returns to its normal operations as quickly as possible.”

While the trucker convey has garnered a lot of support on the ground, there is some opposition to the movement.

The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) denounced anyone engaged in road and/or border protests in a release on Jan. 22.

“The Ontario Trucking Association does not support and strongly disapproves of any protests on public roadways, highways, and bridges. OTA believes such actions – especially those that interfere with public safety – are not how disagreements with government policies should be expressed,” the release said.

“Members of the trucking industry who want to publicly express displeasure over government policies can choose to hold an organized, lawful event on Parliament Hill or contact their local MP. What is not acceptable is disrupting the motoring public on highways and commerce at the border.”

The OTA added that the “vast majority” of the Canadian trucking industry is vaccinated, and vaccination rates in the overall industry mirror that of the general public.

Ontario’s transportation minister further said that the federal government and the Canadian Trucking Alliance both agree that vaccination, in combination with other public health measures, are the most effective way to reduce the risk of COVID-19.

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Locally, Manitoulin Transport told The Manitoulin Expositor that its truck drivers will not be affected by the new mandate.

“All our cross-border drivers are fully vaccinated. We’ve been focusing on that for awhile now,” said Jeff King, the company’s president.

“The trucking industry as a whole is not ready, there are lots of drivers who have not been fully vaccinated. This will put a squeeze on capacity. We have done all we can.”

Some media across the province have also been reporting that the trucker convoy’s initial purpose has been hijacked by far-right rhetoric.

The convoy shot back by saying “any statements made indicating that we are in some way separatists or terrorists are categorically false and an attempt to smear this movement,” said a press release.

“We are peaceful hard-working Canadians who love our country and want the betterment for all Canadians,” said organizers.

A GoFundMe campaign that claims to support the Freedom Convoy 2022 was launched by Alberta resident Tamara Lich this week.

As of Thursday, the campaign had raised $6.1 million to help cover the cost of fuel, food and lodging for those participating in the convoy.

GoFundMe previously froze the funds, but recent reports said organizers have been able to withdraw $1 million after handing over a distribution plan to the platform.

The Greater Sudbury Police Service said it is working in collaboration with provincial police and law enforcement partners across the province, as well as local organizers who will be participating in the convoy.

“We will issue potential traffic disruptions in our area once we have a clear estimated time of arrival,” said a police spokesperson.

“Members of our traffic management unit and police liaison team will be monitoring the situation and will be present in order to ensure minimal traffic delays.”

Provincial police said they recognize the rights of the general public, all road users, local residents, and businesses to a safe environment.

“Motorists can expect delays. We suggest avoiding travel routes that may be impacted. Please be patient and drive with safety in mind,” said a spokesperson.

“There may be an increased level of truck traffic as a result of the truck protest. The OPP asks the public to remain vigilant when driving.”

For more information on the Freedom Convoy 2022, visit bit.ly/32CrMgj.

Action4Canada also has a full schedule posted to its website at bit.ly/3KTir4Y.

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.

[email protected]

Twitter: @SudburyStar

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