Canadian lawmakers are growing increasingly concerned with the economic impact of the truckers protesting the government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The protests, labeled as the “Freedom Convoy,” first began in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Jan. 23. Hundreds of big rig trucks traveled to Ottawa where they were joined by thousands of Canadians on Saturday in protest against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s coronavirus policies.
But the protests have since spread to other locations on or near the Canadian border, including the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, where a protest caused long backups and at one point stopped traffic in both directions.
The bridge, which carries 25% of all trade between Canada and the United States, remains blocked on the road to Canada.
Protesters have also closed another important U.S.-Canada border crossing in Coutts, Alberta. They have said they will not leave until all vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Some have also called for the removal of Trudeau’s government.
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Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said such blockades will have serious implications on the economy and supply chains. “I’ve already heard from automakers and food grocers. This is really a serious cause for concern,” he said in Ottawa, the capital.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino added, “Most Canadians understand there is a difference between being tired and fatigued with the pandemic and crossing into some other universe.”
Auto parts and other goods were still flowing across the border Tuesday evening, despite the bridge delays. But trucks had to travel almost 70 miles north to the Blue Water Bridge connecting Sarnia, Ontario, to Port Huron, Michigan. Authorities at that bridge reported a nearly three-hour delay for trucks to cross. In total, the trip will take more than five hours longer than normal.
On Monday, Trudeau derided the truckers as anti-democratic. Speaking in an emergency debate late Monday in Parliament, Trudeau said the protesters were “trying to blockade our economy, our democracy,” and it has to stop.
“This is a story of a country that got through this pandemic by being unified – and a few people shouting and waving swastikas does not define who Canadians are,” he said.
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Trudeau doubled down on Tuesday, noting that his administration “has been focused every step of the way on following the best science, the best public health advice, to keep as many people as safe as possible. Frankly, it’s worked.”
He added that the country’s lower infection and death rates came about “because Canadians stepped up and got vaccinated.”
“I can understand frustrations with mandates,” he said. “But mandates are the way to avoid further restrictions.”
Not everyone within Trudeau’s Liberal Party, however, has gotten behind the prime minister’s rhetoric.
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Joel Lightbound on Tuesday rebuked his leader for dividing Canadians and said his government needs to create a road map for when coronavirus measures should be lifted.
“It is time we stopped dividing people, to stop pitting one part of the population against each other,” Lightbound said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism