Canadian capital police get reinforcements as anti-vax convoy arrives

Associated Press

Ottawa, Ontario — Police in Canada’s capital called in reinforcements as the first trucks in a convoy organized to protest the Canadian government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truck drivers arrived in the capital Friday.

Several thousand people are expected in Ottawa this weekend as part of group demanding an end to vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions. Some of the group’s leaders are calling for a peaceful event, but statements from some associated with the group have included threats of violence.

Ottawa police are working with national security agencies to identify any potential threats to public safety, Chief Peter Sloly said during a press briefing Friday.

“Even during the course of this conference call we’ve had new intelligence coming in regards to local threats,” he said.

A top Parliament security official has warned lawmakers to lock their doors amid reports their private homes may be targeted.

The first of hundreds vehicles started to trickle into Ottawa, where they are expected to set up in the streets around Parliament Hill for the weekend — and possibly longer.

As of about noon, more than 100 people were lined up along the sidewalk outside the gates to Parliament Hill. Cars and pickup trucks lined the north side of the main street outside, far past the Parliament buildings. People waved flags and hollered as supporters drove by honking their horns. Some seemed to be settling in for the long haul, with one group setting up a barbecue on the sidewalk.

The truckers are, in part, protesting a new rule that took effect Jan. 15 requiring truckers entering Canada be fully immunized against the coronavirus. The United States has imposed the same requirement on truckers entering that country.

Jay Koster made the trip from Fergus, Ontario, to watch the protest and said he was “frustrated” with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government when it comes to vaccine mandates.

“People who choose not to get a vaccine, they’re Canadians,” he said. “We’re Canadians and we appreciate our freedom.”

The police chief said there are concerns about “parallel demonstrations,” as some with extreme, far-right and white supremacist views have latched onto the protest as the convoy has crossed the country.

The Canadian government ended the truckers’ exemption to the vaccine mandate, meaning Canadian truck drivers need to be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a two-week quarantine and pre-arrival molecular test for COVID-19 before crossing into Canada.

Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated foreign national truck drivers who do not have a right to re-enter are turned away at the border and directed back to the United States. The U.S. now also requires Canadian truckers to provide proof of vaccination to enter that country.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance has disavowed the protest and said more than 85% of truckers are vaccinated. Many truckers have also posted on social media they continue to do their jobs and that the convoy doesn’t speak for them.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has warned people not to dismiss the protesters as simple freedom fighters, saying nobody wants to see the Parliament Hill demonstration descend into anti-government violence.

While the size of the convoy has been a source of debate, the Kingston Police Service said Friday morning that it had counted 17 full tractor trailers, 104 big rigs without trailers, 424 passenger vehicles and six recreational vehicles leaving the Ontario city for Ottawa.

The border vaccine mandate has caused some delays and stress for trucking companies, said Brian Hitchcock, owner of MBH Trucking out of Webberville near Lansing. Hitchcock, who is the chairman of the Michigan Trucking Association, lost half of his Canadian shipment drivers when the mandate was imposed. 

"We're falling behind every week," he said. "We're not as efficient, that's for sure."

Mid-day Friday there was a 20-minute delay at the Ambassador Bridge and no delays at the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel border crossing, according to the Canada Border Services Agency's border wait times. 

Hitchcock said his company has seen some effects at the border since the Canadian mandate began Jan. 15.

"We had some different times where they were delayed and then they pick right back up," Hitchcock said.

Despite the mandate, the number of truck travelers at the border has increased, according to statistics from the Canada Border Services Agency. From Jan. 10-16 there were 108,679 truck travelers compared with 92,872 Jan. 3-9. 

The agency said there have been some delays due to the increased time needed to process travelers at ports of entry.

"Truck drivers can minimize delays by ensuring they have submitted the required information, including vaccination evidence and information using ArriveCAN," the agency said. 

Detroit News Staff Writer Kalea Hall contributed.