A convoy of truckers is expected to roll through the Wheat City this morning to protest a new federal mandate that requires them to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before crossing the Canada-U.S. border for work.
The fleet of trucks represents the western arm of the nation-wide "Freedom Rally," which departed from Prince Rupert, B.C., over the weekend and is hoping to reach Ottawa by Saturday.
Once they arrive in the nation’s capital, members of this rally — which also includes truckers driving from southern Ontario and the east coast — are planning to lobby the federal government to reverse the vaccine mandate.
After moving through Alberta and Saskatchewan over the past couple of days, the convoy is slated to arrive in Brandon around 11 a.m. today, with some vehicles parking near the Esso gas station located at the intersection of 18th Street and Provincial Trunk Highway 1.
According to Freedom Rally promoter Benita Pedersen, the public’s reaction to the protest has been overwhelmingly positive so far, with their GoFundMe campaign to financially support the travelling protestors having raised over $3.6 million as of Monday evening.
While Pedersen couldn’t supply a specific number of vehicles that will show up this morning, she claims the convoy could last for several hours as it passes through Brandon.
"This is like an army," she told the Sun over the phone. "We’re a peaceful army, mind you, but this is a show of force to say that we will not tolerate these mandates any longer. This is over. These restrictions are unreasonable and they need to end the mandates effective immediately."
The new vaccine mandate for Canadian truckers officially came into effect on Jan. 15, falling in line with a similar policy from the United States that requires all essential foreign travellers, including truck drivers, who cross the border, to be fully vaccinated.
While Pedersen reiterated the Freedom Rally is designed to convince the Canadian government to eliminate this specific trucker vaccine mandate, she said it also aims to force out COVID-19 mandates across the board.
"That includes the mandated vaccine, that includes the vax pass, that includes mask-wearing rules, and that includes social distancing rules and capacity rules," she said.
"It’s time to end the mandates. This virus has burned itself out, and these truckers and everybody else just want to get back to work."
The province recorded 23 new COVID-related deaths over the weekend, with 716 patients occupying hospital beds, including 49 people in intensive care units, as of Monday afternoon, due to the virus.
The ongoing Freedom Rally isn’t the only time Pedersen has helped organize a protest against COVID measures.
The Westlock, Alta., DJ is currently facing 10 Public Health Act tickets for spearheading a variety of rallies across northern Alberta last year, including one directly outside the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.
However, Pedersen said she believes the scale of this current protest is different and will inevitably cause a ripple effect that leads to policy change south of the border as well.
"The support for the freedom movement is growing exponentially and what happens is people just naturally get inspired when they see other people doing something," she said.
"What’s happening here in Canada is already being studied and shared by people in the United States. In fact, we’ve got truckers that are coming up from the United States to support this Canadian convoy."
In the lead-up to Jan. 15, the Canadian Trucking Alliance also asked the federal government to either eliminate this particular vaccine mandate, believing it could force around 12,000 to 22,000 workers off the job.
However, CTA explicitly does not endorse the ongoing Freedom Rally and said the nationwide protest has the potential to compromise public safety given its size.
"Members of the trucking industry who want to publicly express displeasure over government policies can choose to hold an organized, lawful event on Parliament Hill or contact their local MP," CTA wrote on its official website. "What is not acceptable is disrupting the motoring public on highways and commerce at the border."
Pedersen admitted that today’s rally in Brandon could cause some traffic congestion and suggests local motorists plan their day ahead of time to avoid any delays.
"I acknowledge it may cause some inconvenience for some people," she said. "But if people simply speak [to the participants] to understand the motivation behind the convoy, then they too will come to support Freedom Convoy 2022."