Canada’s bridge blocking trucker protest is short on semis

Many of the protesters work in industries other than trucking, but are joining in solidarity to oppose coronavirus vaccine mandates.

An access ramp to Ambassador Bridge is temporarily closed for trucks traveling into Canada in Detroit, Michigan, on February 8.
An access ramp to Ambassador Bridge is temporarily closed for trucks travelling into Canada from Detroit, Michigan, the United States on February 8 [Bloomberg]

The truck driver protest that started in Ottawa before spreading to shut Canada’s gateway to Detroit and its auto plants appears to be a bit short of one key element: truckers.

A mile-long stretch of Huron Church Road in Windsor, Ontario, which connects with the Ambassador Bridge and downtown Detroit, was jammed with well over 100 pickup trucks, family sedans and even a pint-sized Smart car, shutting down traffic into the city all day Tuesday. Among the protesters blocking the roadway were just three semi trucks.

The sight in Windsor stands in contrast to the convoy of freight trucks that has caused havoc in Ottawa for almost two weeks, showing that sentiment against Covid rules has spread. The streets of the Canadian capital have been choked with parked semis as truckers protest a mandate that drivers must be vaccinated before they can move across the border.

The Windsor protest may have endurance. The city’s mayor, Drew Dilkens, told Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that given the stubborn rhetoric from the convoy, he may need provincial or federal intervention to get traffic moving.

With protesters still blocking the road into Windsor on Wednesday morning, the Michigan Department of Transportation advised drivers to enter Canada via the Blue Water Bridge, about an hour north of Detroit. But commercial traffic faced wait times at that bridge of more than four hours, according to Canada’s border agency.

Many of the protesters work in other industries, but are joining in solidarity to oppose vaccine mandates, Covid-related shutdowns of businesses or just take shots at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Whether it’s solidarity or a copycat gathering varies person to person, but for the time being it has traffic from Detroit into Canada blocked off.

“We’re here to support them,” said Aaron McLaughlin, a 26-year-old construction worker who lives in Windsor. “Why should I get the shot? I’ve had coronavirus before. I have natural antibodies. The government is forcing this on people, it’s very wrong in my eyes.”

McLaughlin said there were truckers in the protest earlier in the day, but many had to return to work. Some drove by and honked as they headed into Michigan. The lanes into the U.S. on the bridge were open on Wednesday, as was the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel for passenger cars.

‘Freedom Convoy’

McLaughlin said he had also been in Ottawa protesting. The Windsor protest was called into action by a Facebook group called “Freedom Convoy Windsor.” Several other protesters said they found out about the action through social media connections.

“Originally it was a trucking group and now it’s spread to pop-up groups all over Canada,” McLaughlin said. “The main movement started in Alberta. We’re all doing it for the same reason.”

Of the three trucks in the convoy from mid-afternoon to evening, one was stamped with the logo of BDR Logistics, a trucking company in Springfield, Ontario, about two hours east of Windsor. The driver was seated inside with the heat on and refused to give his name.

By far most of the vehicles in the convoy were pickup trucks, many with names of roofing or framing contractors splashed across the side. Protesters say they are fed up with the government pushing more mandates and rules because of Covid.

Last year, Covid restrictions were easing, but some Canadians were enraged at the start of the year when Ontario once again began closing restaurants, moving schools to online learning, and asking employers to have staff work from home. The steps were seen as essential to protect the hospital system, which threatened to buckle under the strain of rising omicron case counts. While restrictions have been gradually easing, there are still capacity limits on many public venues, as well as requirements to wear masks and be vaccinated.

“We want all the mandates dropped and for our crooked prime minister to step down,” said Matt Mansell, a mason in Windsor.

‘Doesn’t Make Sense’

Sandra Rennie, who works for a greenhouse farm in Windsor, echoed the sentiment that the bilateral vaccine mandates placed on truckers violate people’s right to choose. She also complained about rules for unvaccinated Canadian drivers, who are required to quarantine when they return home.

“I work on a farm. We can’t force our workers to cross the border and quarantine,” Rennie said. “They would be off for a long time. It’s doesn’t make sense. They need to drop these mandates. They are tramping over our rights and freedom.”

The Ontario Trucking Association, which represents small, family-owned shippers and large freight companies, said the vast majority of its drivers are vaccinated. The group said the protests don’t really represent the industry.

“It appears that most protesters have no connection to the trucking industry and have separate grievances beyond the cross-border vaccine requirements,” the OTA said on its website. “As these protests unfold, OTA asks the public to be aware that many of the people you see and hear in media reports do not have a connection to the trucking industry and do not represent the view of the Ontario Trucking Association or its members.”

The protesters do have some allies in business as Covid cases decline. Robert Wildeboer, executive chairman of Canadian auto parts maker Martinrea International Inc., told BNN Bloomberg Television that it’s time to end the vaccine mandate.

“I think that’s probably one of the most unnecessary pieces of legislation in the history of our country, given where we were at in the pandemic,” Wildeboer said. “I would say we should look at getting rid of that.”

(Updates with bridge status, delays in the fifth paragraph)

Source: Bloomberg