Freedom convoy protests vaccine mandates in Canada

Corina Beimers – Staff Writer

Contributed Photo

Two years ago, you could describe Canada as united. As a Canadian citizen, you could be confident that, as a country, we could get through anything, including the pandemic, together. This is no longer the case. 

What began as a group of Canadian truckers protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates has quickly turned into jammed streets, a blockaded border, inappropriate grandstanding, and, simply put, an embarrassment for Canada.

In Canada, pandemic regulations have looked different than they do in the United States. There, proof of vaccination is needed to enter restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, sporting events, and more. 

In the middle of January, the Canadian government issued a vaccine mandate that extended to truckers crossing the US-Canada border. If a trucker chose not to get vaccinated and left the country on business, they were required to quarantine upon returning to the country. 

Since the start of the pandemic, truckers have been exempt from such border-crossing regulations, but the vaccine mandate started a movement called the Freedom Convoy, bringing uproar and divisiveness across the country.

The Freedom Convoy was started by truckers and conservatives in British Columbia. On Jan. 23, they started their trip across the country to protest in the nation’s capital in Ottawa, Ontario. The movement picked up support and numbers along the way. The city became packed with trucks, cars, and protesters rallying against COVID-19 mandates. The heart of the protest took place outside of Canada’s House of Commons, but demonstrations and convoys popped up all over the country.

Though the Freedom Convoy wasn’t started with the intent of violence, it has turned toxic and given Canada a bad look. The movement’s inconsistencies are numerous. While its GoFundMe has raised millions of dollars, in part for veterans’ organizations, a protestor was also recorded dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a memorial dedicated to Canadian service members who fought for the country’s freedom. Also, demonstrators have climbed and urinated on the cenotaph at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

“I look at it and I lament. It’s sad to me,” said Aaron Baart, a Canadian and Dordt’s Dean of Chapel. 

Baart was visiting British Columbia when the movement started and saw it firsthand. 

As the convoy protests in the name of freedom, the group’s extremists have taken the opportunity to compare vaccines and vaccine mandates to rape and the Holocaust.

In Ottawa, the effects of the protest are not sustainable. The city’s residents have seen their neighborhoods treated like garbage and have been harassed for wearing masks. In Alberta, protesters decided to form a blockade at one of Canada’s busiest border crossings, blocking trade routes.

“I empathize with people who are frustrated with lockdowns,” said Jake Thorsteinson, a senior from Alberta. “I want to make sure their exhaustions and frustrations are validated, but also don’t agree with the way they are going about it.” 

The Canadian Trucking Alliance released a statement amidst the protests to remind people to protest peacefully. The CTA estimated 90 percent of Canada’s truckers are vaccinated.

Keturah van der Wier, a junior from Ontario has family in the convoy and expresses support for the movement. 

“For the most part, it’s peaceful and there are so many people supporting it, which is amazing, so I’m really proud,” van der Wier said. “It’s exciting for me to see.”

The country’s protesters are frustrated with changing regulations throughout the pandemic.

“It just kept going and eventually that’s not good for anyone’s mental health and it’s hard to manage,” said van der Wier. 

On Feb. 6, Ottawa declared a state of emergency as protests continued and the safety and security of residents was put into question.

“I have almost disconnected it from being Canadian because it seems so incompatible with what I know the overwhelming culture of Canada to be,” Thorsteinson said. 

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