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Vaccine-mandate protests disrupt truck traffic at US-Canada border

Convoys and protests and been felt across Canada, especially in the capital city of Ottawa, but also at Emerson, Manitoba.

Vehicles block downtown streets in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Vehicles continue to block downtown streets as truckers and supporters protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Ottawa, Ontario, on Tuesday, Feb. 1.
Blair Gable/Reuters
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EMERSON, Manitoba — Truck drivers in Manitoba have been using a slow roll to disrupt traffic at a key border crossing from Canada into North Dakota as part of a national call for freedom from vaccine mandates.

The protests started in the trucking industry after policies in both the U.S. and Canada went into effect in January requiring drivers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to cross the border. Truckers had previously been exempted under essential worker status.

Rick Wall, the owner of Richland Transport at Winkler, Manitoba, said the protesters are "calling for an end to all mandates," not just those affecting the trucking industry. "None of it has any logic."

While the movement started in the truck industry, Wall said on Wednesday, Feb. 2, that "all kinds of industries a jumping on board."

People driving agricultural and construction equipment also have joined protests at border crossings and at the capital city of Ottawa, Ontario, where trucks have been blocking streets for several days.

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Wall sent four of his trucks to the Ottawa protests.

"We have full intentions of staying there until the mandates are lifted," Wall said.

At Emerson, Wall said protesters are taking up both lanes of Highway 75 as traffic approaches the port of entry across from Pembina, North Dakota. Protesters are then looping back north into Canada, clogging up the northbound lanes.

A line of trucks at the Canada-U.S. border near Emerson, Manitoba.
Trucks take up both lanes of Highway 75 in near Emerson, Manitoba on Wednesday, Feb. 2., as part of a protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Contributed / Rick Wall

Wall said Wednesday's protest got started about 6 a.m. and would continue until about 10 p.m. The protests took place Saturday, Sunday and Monday, but a winter storm kept things quiet Tuesday.

Normally about 500 to 1,000 trucks cross the border daily into the U.S. at Pembina.

Wall appeared in a video posted on YouTube on Sunday, Jan. 30. "Our main goal is to get our freedoms back," he said in the video.

Wall said the protests would be peaceful and that protesters have been talking with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who have not interfered with their actions.

Disruptions forced the closure of the border crossing at Coutts, Alberta, into Montana over the weekend, though traffic could cross into Canada from the U.S.

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Reuters news agency reported that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Tuesday moved in on truckers blockading the border at Coutts but pulled back after clashes with some drivers.

The Canada Border Services Agency website on Wednesday, Feb. 2, indicated a seven-hour delay at Coutts. It indicated no delay at Emerson.

Jason Givens of U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in an email that the protests didn’t affect the agency's operations, but it did slow down trucks crossing the border.

The Canada Border Services Agency declined to answer questions on the situation but in an email it did say that the "ports of entry are secure controlled areas that must not be accessed by anyone not in the process of crossing the border."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who this week tested positive for COVID-19, has said the government will not back down.

"To the nearly 90% of truckers across the country who’ve gotten vaccinated and are working hard to keep our shelves stocked and our economy moving: Thank you. Just like we’ve relied on you, you can rely on us to stand with you – and make sure you can do your job safely," Trudeau tweeted Tuesday, Feb. 1.

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring has asked President Joe Biden's administration to drop its vaccine mandate for truckers.

“Over 75% of U.S.-Canada trade moves by truck,” Goehring said in a Jan. 28 news release. “Forcing this vaccine mandate on the industry will hurt the livelihoods of truckers, create further supply chain disruptions and cause price increases in essential goods.”

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Wall's trucking company runs about 30 trucks and he said a very small percentage of his drivers are vaccinated. He said he has been trying to keep drivers busy on the Canadian side of the border but that his business relies heavily on cross-border trips.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance issued a statement on Jan. 22 that said it "does not support and strongly disapproves of any protests on public roadways, highways, and bridges. CTA believes such actions — especially those that interfere with public safety — are not how disagreements with government policies should be expressed."

It would later condemn protests in Ottawa for desecrating national monuments and in a news release said "it also appears that a great number of these protestors have no connection to the trucking industry and have a separate agenda beyond a disagreement over cross border vaccine requirements."

That news release also said, "As an industry we must adapt and comply with this mandate and the vast majority have."

But Wall insists that it is the Canadian government that needs to change.

"We have high hopes that the mandates will be lifted in the near future," he said.

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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