'Freedom Convoy' heads to Ottawa from Quebec border crossings
Quebec truckers who disagree with a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination mandate gathered at several Canada-U.S. border crossings Friday morning before heading out to join the so-called "Freedom Convoy" to Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
Starting Jan. 15, COVID-19 vaccination is mandatory for all truckers entering Canada from the U.S., which also does not allow unvaccinated Canadian truckers to cross the border.
Protesters started their gatherings at the border crossings of Saint-Théophile in Chaudière-Appalaches, Stanstead in the Eastern Townships and Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle in the Montérégie.
They departed their meet-up locations at 11:45 a.m. and the plan, according to a Facebook page called "Freedom convoy 2022," is to drive to the area of Highway 40 in Vaudreuil, west of Montreal, before heading to Ottawa.
"Keep calm, no aggression, no words, bring your best smile and your good mood," states one message encouraging truckers to remain peaceful.
Over the last week, the movement has grown to include other groups, including conservative political allies, that protest public health guidelines in general, saying they violate their freedoms.
They say they want Ottawa to end all vaccine-related mandates, even though that is the jurisdiction of provincial governments.
Large associations, like the Canadian Trucking Alliance, say they do not support the movement, noting 90 per cent of members are vaccinated and respect protocols.
Conseil de la transformation alimentaire du Québec (CTAQ) estimates the vaccine requirement means there could be between 12,000 and 16,000 fewer truckers on the road.
Sylvie Cloutier, president and CEO of CTAQ, states the food supply chain, already weakened by the pandemic and a labour shortage, will cause food prices to rise even more -- something federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra denies.
"I don't want to minimize the fact that we have to remain vigilant and work together to address these issues," Alghabra told The Canadian Press. "But this notion that we're going to starve is really unfortunate and does a disservice to Canadians, to Canadian society and to the debate that we need to be having."
ARRIVING IN OTTAWA
Participants in the Canada-wide “Freedom Convoy” were congregating before Parliament by Friday afternoon.
One protestor told The Canadian Press he showed up with the aim of “removing all restrictions.”
“When the truth comes out, it’s sad to say, but there are people who will have to stand trial,” said Paul Poulin, a veteran of the Royal 22e Régiment.
Another protestor, trucker André Landry, accused journalists, doctors and politicians of lying to the population, telling one Canadian Press reporter that “there are plenty of people like you who are happy to tell lies.”
Ottawa police say they expect the affair to be a “multi-day” event and that they’ve called in reinforcements.
LISTEN ON CJAD 800 RADIO: What can we expect from the trucker convoy in Ottawa this weekend? Freelance investigative journalist Justin Ling with details
LEGAULT GOVERNMENT ACTING CAUTIOUSLY
The Legault government is reacting cautiously to the movement.
According to CAQ parliamentary leader Simon Jolin-Barrette, people can express themselves, but it must be done in an orderly fashion.
In an interview with The Canadian Press on Friday, the minister was asked to comment on the convoy of truckers converging on Ottawa to protest mandatory vaccination at the border.
On the sidelines of the CAQ virtual caucus, Jolin-Barrette acknowledged that everyone is anxious to move on and get the pandemic over with.
"Everyone is aware that we must make the necessary efforts to continue to fight the virus. We must not give up .. Everyone has adapted over the past two years, the entire population. Quebec has adapted to this new reality that has struck," the minister said.
"Everyone in Quebec is anxious to move on, that's very clear."
-- With files from The Canadian Press.
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