Canada PM Trudeau Moved to Safety As Truckers' Anti-Vaccine Protest Intensifies
'Freedom Convoy' has drawn support from the Opposition, but not as much from the country's South Asian truckers.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family have been shifted to a secret location away from the country's capital, Ottawa, after thousands of truckers protested in opposition to the federal government's vaccine mandate.
The Trudeau administration, on 15 January, had imposed the mandate requiring truckers to provide proof of vaccination before entering Canada from the United States.
A similar mandate was imposed by the US government on 22 January.
The 'Freedom Convoy', which had begun as a rally taken out by truckers against the new mandate, quickly blew up into a full-fledged anti-vaccination protest against the government and its overall COVID response.
The police are reportedly on high alert to prevent possible violence as hundreds of protesters, vehicles, and pickup trucks had flooded the parliamentary precinct, despite warnings of extreme cold temperatures.
Health restrictions, mask mandates, and COVID-19 guidelines are some of the things that are causing anger amongst the truckers.
'We're Not Intimidated,' Trudeau Responds
Earlier on Friday, 28 January, Trudeau had told the media that the convoy represented a "small fringe minority" who "do not represent the views of Canadians."
Then, on 1 February, he responded to the protests in a series of tweets, saying that while the nation was frustrated with the pandemic, "Canadians have been shocked – and, frankly, disgusted – by the behaviour displayed by some people protesting in our nation's capital."
"We're not intimidated by those who hurl abuse at small business workers and steal food from the homeless. We won't give in to those who fly racist flags. And we won't cave to those who engage in vandalism, or dishonour the memory of our veterans," he added.
Truckers Draw Wide Support
The conservative Opposition has opposed the vaccine mandate, arguing that it would lead to a supply-chain disruption.
Conservative party leader Erin O'Toole said that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals were trying to "smear and demonise" truckers.
Former US President Donald Trump also offered his support and solidarity to the truckers.
"We want those great Canadian truckers to know that we are with them all the way," he said.
Criticising US President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate for truckers, he added that the Canadian demonstrators were "doing more to defend American freedom than our own leaders by far."
The protests also found the support of billionaire Elon Musk.
The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX tweeted, "Canadian truckers rule."
'Should Hang Their Heads in Shame'
Some of the protesters were seen dancing on and desecrating historically significant sites like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National War Memorial.
The act drew condemnation from top government and defence officials.
For instance, General Wayne Eyre, who is the current Chief of Defence Staff, tweeted, "I am sickened to see protesters dance on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and desecrate the National War Memorial."
"Generations of Canadians have fought and died for our rights, including free speech, but not this. Those involved should hang their heads in shame," he added.
According to a report on the BloombergQuint, the Canadian Trucking Alliance, a federation representing provincial trucking organisations, released a statement on Saturday, 29 January, saying that these protests were unrepresentative of the broader industry.
The CTA said that about 90% of Canadian truckers were vaccinated, and the industry must "adapt and comply" with the newly enforced rules.
What About the South Asian Trucking Community?
One community that has, by and large, decided to skip the protests is the South Asian community, which claims that there are bigger issues than vaccine mandates that truckers need to fight for.
Some of these are better pay and safer roads.
"Safer working conditions. That is what is needed. When you mention safer conditions, it automatically incorporates an ethical work environment, timely payment, well-maintained trucks, good hiring practices, good opportunities to grow, fair business ethics. Everything comes down to safer work conditions," said Manan Gupta, the editor of a Canadian magazine catering to the country's South Asian community's work in the transport sector.
The lack of consultation with the South Asian trucking community also seems to have prevented the members from participating.
While talking to The Globe and Mail, Jagroop Singh, who heads the Ontario Aggregate Trucking Association, said, "Nobody invited me or any South Asian truckers I know. In fact, we don’t even know who the organisers of this protest are. Nobody asked us if we agreed with their demands."
Data published by the CTA says that "immigrants from South Asia have accounted for a massive shift in the demographics of Canada's truck drivers."
For instance, Canada in 2016 had 181,330 truck drivers, of which 18 percent had South Asian backgrounds.
Arshdeep Singh Kang, a 30-year-old Sikh Canadian trucker, says that he doesn't see too many of his people taking part in the protests, especially given the fact that the trucking industry is finding it hard to resolve the inflation problem.
"Inflation is hitting us hard. Drivers are quitting every day. Trucking companies are folding every day. The cost of trucking is increasing every day, but truckers are still expected to work at rates they were paid back in the 1980s. Trucking is becoming a tough business," he told the Globe and Mail.
"If only we came together for the issues that are putting us out of business," he added.
(With inputs from Reuters, BloombergQuint, TVO, Globe and Mail, and NDTV.)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.