A Canada-wide series of protests against the cross-border travel vaccine mandate for the trucking industry passed through Winnipeg on Monday afternoon.
A fleet of vehicles, called the "Freedom Convoy," started out in B.C. on Sunday. It is set to visit cities across the country before gathering in Ottawa to protest the policy that requires all Canadian truckers crossing the border from the United States to be vaccinated to avoid a two-week quarantine.
The policy was announced in November; it came into effect Jan. 15.
The Winnipeg leg of the protest began on Portage Avenue at the west Perimeter Highway, travelled east and ended on Broadway near the Manitoba Legislative Building, according to city police, who recommended motorists avoid the route, if possible.
A GoFundMe webpage started by organizers to fund the cost of fuel, food and amenities for those taking part has reached more than $3.5 million in 10 days.
By 12:30 p.m. Monday, around 30 vehicles — mainly personal vehicles, but a few commercial trucks — had stopped on Broadway, backing up traffic. Some carried signs with slogans critical of Canada’s COVID-19 response, including signage reading "No Vax Pass" and "Mandatory injections are a global mass murder."
One supporter, who had signage around his personal vehicle comparing the COVID-19 pandemic to the Nuremberg trials and insinuating PCR tests were reading false positives, said he had come out because he has family in the trucking industry.
"I’m here to support the truckers, because they’re all getting hurt, they’re losing their livelihoods," said the man, who didn’t want his name published. "This pandemic has cost people’s jobs and businesses are hurting, and the science just doesn’t support this pandemic."
The man said he works in the medical field. His passenger, who said she was a nurse, said the pair had found out about the convoy through "like-minded" social media groups.
Both implied the vaccine against COVID-19 was dangerous and the response to the pandemic had underlying political motives.
"This has divided families — families are so divided now, we’re paying for it on so many different levels it’s not even funny," the man said.
The Manitoba Trucking Association distanced itself from the protesters, saying it supports the Canadian Trucking Alliance’s stance concerning the convoy.
A spokesperson from the Canadian Trucking Alliance condemned the protests, calling them ineffective and unsafe.
"CTA believes such actions — especially those that interfere with public safety — are not how disagreements with government policies should be expressed," the spokesperson wrote in a statement.
"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."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.