TORONTO >> A large crowd gathered outside a mall north of Toronto on Thursday to cheer a group of local truckers preparing to join a convoy to Ottawa protesting Canada’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for cross-border drivers.
Some in the crowd threw cash and food up to drivers inside their truck cabs at the Vaughan Mills mall while others waved Canadian flags and signs protesting the government as the truckers gradually rolled out. Some people harassed journalists covering the rally.
The convoy of truckers set to descend on Canada’s capital has prompted police to prepare for the possibility of violence and politicians to warn against escalating rhetoric linked to the demonstration.
The truckers are 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 Jan, 22.
“Canadian truckers rule,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted in support of the convoy.
Some with extreme, far-right views have latched onto the protest against the mandate. One online video includes a man expressing hope the rally will turn into the Canadian equivalent of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capital by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance has estimated that about 15% of truckers in Canada — as many as 16,000 — are not fully vaccinated
Mike Fabinski, a truck driver from Barrie, Ontario, said the mandate means he won’t be able to work cross-border routes any more.
“You want to be vaccinated, go ahead, your choice. I don’t want to be vaccinated, that’s my choice,” he said.
Fabinski said he has been driving trucks for 20 years but has not been able to travel to the U.S. since the mandate became effective Jan 15.
“I was going non-stop until they started last Saturday,” he said. “Now I cannot go. I cannot work no more.”
The federal government ended truckers’ exemption to the vaccine mandate two weeks ago, meaning Canadian truck drivers need to be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a two-week quarantine when they cross into Canada from the U.S.
Ontario Provincial Police urged drivers to be motorists as several groups of truckers planned to drive across the province to Ottawa to join in a “freedom rally” on Parliament Hill planned for Saturday.
Police in Ottawa have said they are planning for as many as 2,000 demonstrators.