Watch out for possible disruptions to your commute Thursday as truckers with the “Freedom Rally” make their way through the GTA’s main roadways. The convoy, driven by a group of truckers and their supporters opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, worked its way through Saskatchewan and Manitoba on Tuesday, and is now heading for Toronto.
Here’s what you need to know.
What’s the “Freedom Rally” and what are they protesting against?
Starting Jan. 15, the federal government has required Canadian truckers to be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a 14-day quarantine when they cross into Canada from the United States. Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated foreign national drivers will be directed back to the U.S.
Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan has also announced that vaccination will become mandatory for workers in all federally regulated industries, though no timeline has been set.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which has denounced the convoy protest, says more than 85 per cent of the 120,000 Canadian truck drivers who regularly travel across the Canada-U.S. border are vaccinated, but that as many as 16,000 may be sidelined due to the new restriction.
Several industry and business groups have been lobbying hard against the new rule, including the country’s largest association of small- and medium-sized businesses, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. CFIB president Dan Kelly argued Wednesday that the vaccine mandate is creating supply shortages and driving up shipping costs.
However, other experts have said that while sidelining the drivers doesn’t help food circulation, the mandate is not primarily responsible for shortages at grocery stores.
Last Sunday, a group of drivers calling themselves the “Freedom Rally” set off from Delta, B.C., on a weeklong trip to Ottawa, where they plan to protest this weekend on Parliament Hill.
The large group of vehicles, reported to be 20 kilometres long at times, has picked up support as it travels across the country. Online, the group’s Facebook page has picked up more than 180,000 followers, and as of Wednesday afternoon, the group had raised more than $5 million on GoFundMe.
Ottawa police estimate that there could be up to 2,000 demonstrators in the city this weekend. Truck drivers will also be joining the convoy at Parliament Hill from eastern Canadian provinces as well as from the U.S.
What does this mean for traffic?
The main convoy appears to be avoiding the downtown core. According to their online routes, the convoy is expected to depart from Vaughan Mills shopping centre at noon Thursday, heading south on Highway 400, before taking the 407 east on their way to Napanee and Kingston. Other trucks are expected to join the convoy from Sarnia, Windsor and Niagara via the QEW, Highway 400, Highway 401 and Highway 427.
According to Ontario Provincial police, there may be disruptions on the following main roadways and highways tomorrow:
The OPP is encouraging drivers to plan ahead and expect delays from Thursday until Saturday. The Toronto organizer of the trucker convoy, Dave Steenburg, said they are working closely with the OPP. “Safety is a key priority as we pass through (Toronto). Lanes will be left open for traffic to safely merge on and off the highway,” said Steenburg.
With files from Alex McKeen, Kieran Leavitt, and The Canadian Press and Peterborough This Week.
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