Freedom convoy plans move to Winnipeg


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This article was published 03/02/2022 (299 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

While the slow crawl protest at the Emerson port of entry on Highway 75 was set to end Wednesday, truckers aren’t about to go home.

Instead they will transition to the Manitoba Legislature on Friday,

In a message to convoy participants on Wednesday, organizer Rick Wall said they’ve joined forces with another group of organizers based in Winnipeg.

GREG VANDERMEULEN / THE CARILLON Volunteers braved the cold on Saturday to hand out snacks to convoy participants.

“We are excited about the opportunity of joining forces with this group where we will take the same approach in Winnipeg as they are in Ottawa,” he said in the message. “The message is clear – we do not move until all mandates are lifted.”

That wasn’t the plan Tuesday, at which point organizers and participants were planning to stay on site.

“Our end goal is to have all mandates lifted before we retreat from protesting, so we’re going to take it one day at a time,” he said Tuesday.

The Manitoba Convoy held a one-day slow crawl protest Jan. 17 before organizing their latest event beginning Saturday, Jan. 29. The event saw truckers and supporters come to a complete stop at the top of every hour for five minutes. It continued through Monday, halting on Tuesday because of blizzard conditions, continuing Wednesday morning.

Wall, who’s also the president of Winkler based Richland Transport, said they talked with RCMP when planning the event, talks that included approval of the five minute stop every hour and agreed upon speeds they must travel.

That’s in stark contrast to what officials are now calling an “illegal blockade” at the Coutts, Alberta border crossing where talks have broken down between RCMP and organizers.

“We have to make sure that this is done out of love and respect and this has to be done legally,” Wall said. “That’s very important to us.”

Wall criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who told reporters Monday that he would not meet with the group in Ottawa, condemning Nazi symbolism, racist imagery and desecration of war memorials.

“We’re not who Justin Trudeau portrays us to be,” Wall said. “We’re practicing our right to a peaceful protest.”

Wall said contact he’s had with convoy participants in Ottawa tells a different story and he said those causing the trouble may not even be convoy participants. He also suggested that media bias was part of the reason those stories got told.

But he condemns activities such as the people spotted dancing on the tomb of the unknown soldier. “I don’t care if it’s my best friend, if they’re doing something like that, I will completely condemn that,” he said. “That’s not what I’m about, that’s not what our movement is about.”

The atmosphere at the visitor’s centre near Emerson was very different. Entire families left trucks for bathroom breaks and a free meal cooked on site by Hutterites.

Others handed out snacks and windshield washer fluid at intersections on Highway 75.

“The generosity is overwhelming,” Wall said.

GREG VANDERMEULEN / THE CARILLON John Neufeld’s truck hasn’t been seeing much action for the last couple of weeks. The Hochfeld long haul trucker has been sidelined by the vaccine mandate.

He remains confident that the effort will not be in vain.

“People are committed, we’re sticking this through until we see change,” he said.


Hutterites dish up support

That commitment was present too at a cooking trailer set up just off Highway 75 at the visitor’s centre. Provided by Horizon Colony, located just north of Horndean, convoy participants were offered burgers, sausages, hotdogs and soup.

Steve Hofer estimated they would go through 300 gallons on Saturday alone.

“We wanted to show our respect and support,” he explained.

The colony had planned to serve truckers as they went through Headingley last week but were turned away from the Flying J by RCMP who kept the convoy out as well. Instead of heading home, they joined the convoy travelling all the way to Kenora where they served truckers beginning at midnight.

“It was such a great feeling seeing all the support out on the highway,” he said. “It is emotional.”

Hofer said they support the elimination of vaccine mandates.

“People have been locked up for two years and we just want to get our lives back,” he said. “We don’t want society to be segregated.”

That was a popular theme for truckers attending the protest as well.

Winkler’s Russ Suderman expressed his frustration. “I’m just tired of everything that’s going on,” he said.

A dispatcher with a local trucking company, Suderman said taking part in the convoy is “incredible”.

GREG VANDERMEULEN / THE CARILLON Steve Hofer of Horizon Colony looks on as other colony members serve up free food to hungry truckers.

Henry Klassen drove two and a half hours from Arborg to take part. “I feel that we’re losing our freedom and I feel it’s time that everybody stands up,” he said.

Klassen had COVID before vaccinations were available but said he’s remained unvaccinated since.

John Neufeld came from Hochfeld, a village south of Winkler to take part. For him the event is about freedom.

“I think our government has gone very overboard with all this COVID stuff, and taking our freedoms away,” he said. “I’ve got three children, the oldest is 14 and the youngest is 10. I’m doing it for them really.”

A long haul trucker, Neufeld is currently unemployed as a result of the vaccine mandate and his refusal to get vaccinated. He said it should be a choice.

“I’m pro freedom so whoever wants to get vaccinated, that’s their choice.”

Jordan Toews of Grunthal was also on hand and he too said people should be able to choose. He said it was encouraging to take part in the convoy. “The last two years if you’re not for what’s going on, you feel alone,” he said. “I’m realizing we’re not the minority.”


Opposed to convoy

Not everyone supports the convoy.

Earlier last week, the Canadian Trucking Alliance issued a statement opposing the convoy and supporting the vaccine mandate. On Saturday, they reiterated their stance, adding a message for truckers participating in the Ottawa event.

“To those in the trucking industry that have chosen to participate in this protest regarding cross border mandates, we ask that you engage in a peaceful demonstration today then leave the City of Ottawa to avoid any issues to the welfare and safety of the citizens of Ottawa. Your behaviour today will not only reflect upon you and your family but the 300,000 plus fellow Canadians that, like you, take great pride in our industry,” they stated.

Even the company names on trucks in the protest may not be supporting those drivers.

A handful of Steinbach based Penner International trucks were in Saturday’s event near Emerson. General Manager Les Kehler declined an interview with The Carillon but provided a statement on Monday saying the company does not support this type of action.

GREG VANDERMEULEN / THE CARILLON Henry Klassen drove to the border from Arborg to take part.

“As a company we support the direction of the Manitoba Trucking Association and Canadian Trucking Alliance, which is not supportive of the convoy,” he said in the emailed statement. “These are individual owner operators who own their own trucks. What they do with their personal time is not our business. Our brand being displayed is disappointing and (we) are working to correct that.”

MLA disciplined

Support for the convoy also cost one MLA a role he’s held for less than two weeks.

Borderland MLA Josh Guenter joined the convoy on Saturday, sharing his support in a Facebook post.

He was not made available for an interview on Monday, after Premier Heather Stefanson issued a statement removing Guenter from his role as legislative assistant for the minister of health.

“As I have stated before, I expect all representatives of the government, whether ministers or their legislative assistants, to support efforts to get all Manitobans vaccinated,” she said.

Stefanson expressed support for the right to peacefully protest, but condemned the use of anti-Semitic, racist imagery and desecration of war memorials or statues.

“Concerns with the border mandate for truckers do have merit and should be examined further by our federal government to find better solutions,” she said.

Stefanson also used the statement to urge all eligible Manitobans to get vaccinated, including a third dose, to protect their communities and the health system.


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