Anti-mandate demonstrators gather as a truck convoy blocks the highway the busy U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alberta, Monday, Jan. 31, 2022.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
An anti-vax trucker convoy full of self-proclaimed “freedom fighters” is on Day Four of blocking the U.S.-Canada border between Alberta and Montana, making it nearly impossible for locals to access essential services and stranding hundreds of people on both sides of the border. Lovepreet Singh, a trucker not affiliated with the demonstrations, was one of hundreds stuck at the border crossing. Singh waited for two days before opting to re-enter Canada through British Columbia on Monday, tacking on an additional six hours of travel—and about $400 worth of diesel, paid out of pocket—to drive to his home in Edmonton, Alberta.
“I had nothing to eat. I had to get my way home,” Singh said.
When Singh was waiting on the Montana side of the border to drive back home, he said there was a 4-kilometre line of truckers and cars who were blocked from re-entry because of the far-right protests. He estimates that 150 trucks are stranded on either side of the border right now. Many truckers have driven to nearby towns, where they can access food, to wait out the situation.“I had a delivery for Jan. 29 at Sobeys [a supermarket chain] and I arrived on Jan. 31. That is how the supply chain is affected,” Singh said. The Canadian Meat Council also reported that “150 loads” of beef are stuck at the border, which may force producers to slow down production if the situation isn’t resolved. “I don’t know how stopping these services—basic necessities for people—is helping people get their freedom,” Singh said. “If you have real issues, figure out a better way to talk to the government. You can't just stop the borders.” “We [truckers] just want our work back.”Another Canadian trucker, John Schwarz, told CBC he was stuck at the border for 40 hours as of Monday morning while driving back to Canada from Idaho. "These guys are basically holding us hostage, and nobody's doing anything about it," Schwarz said.
The Alberta-Montana border crossing is one of Canada’s busiest ports of entry. Since Saturday, protesters have also prevented people from Coutts, Alberta, a 250-person village nearby, from going to school and accessing essential services. The Canadian Press reported how the nearest grocery store, gas station, pharmacy, and hospital are only accessible by county roads, which have been blocked. On Monday, mail service was cancelled. “I want them gone,” Coutts Mayor Jim Willett told the Canadian Press on Monday. Willett added that he’s worried about older community members who are intimidated by the protesters.The blockade is related to the larger anti-vax convoy that converged in Ottawa last weekend, which started out as a protest against U.S. and Canada vaccine regulations for cross-border truckers. Truckers crossing the border must be fully vaccinated or show a negative PCR test and quarantine upon re-entry. Demonstrations have since devolved into a fight against COVID-related public health measures, including life-saving vaccine and mask mandates, and other grievances they have with Canada’s federal government and especially Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Members of the convoy in Ottawa have shit on people's lawns and flown flags with swastikas drawn on them. The situation is so volatile that Ottawa police set up a hotline for people to report hate.
Some anti-vax protesters, most of whom are white, were caught on camera performing racist and false Indigenous stereotypes—singing “yaba daba doo,” chanting incoherently, and drumming randomly—while pretending they have Indigenous support for their cause. Singh, who is South Asian, said he’s received an onslaught of hateful messages since he spoke out on Facebook against the blockades. In a now viral video, Singh said many Canadian truckers with health issues who are stranded in the U.S. are concerned about healthcare costs if an emergency strikes. He said authorities haven’t offered adequate help or advice.
“They [anti-vax truckers] don’t represent me,” Singh said, adding that he’s exercising his own “freedom” by speaking out. According to Singh, real issues plague truckers, including too few rest areas along their routes. Wage theft is also a serious issue plaguing South Asian truckers in Ontario. “We need to raise these issues,” he said. In fact, about one-fifth of truckers in Canada are South Asian and most truckers are vaccinated. Yet, the anti-vax convoy is referring to itself as a “truckers’ movement.”
“I don’t believe in the issues they are raising,” Canadian trucker Arshdeep Singh Kang told the Globe and Mail. “I know there are some South Asian people who support this convoy, but I couldn’t see any of my people in the videos of the convoy.”Some demonstrators in Alberta and Ottawa have said they won’t leave until all COVID restrictions are revoked.
Late Monday, Alberta RCMP said that attempts to negotiate with the blockaders haven’t been successful.“While we thought we had a path to resolve this, the protesters chose not to comply,” Alberta RCMP tweeted. “We will continue to actively resolve the situation, and would like to remind everyone to stay clear of the area as traffic remains immobile.”Onlookers have criticized the RCMP for not doing enough, comparing relatively low police enforcement at the anti-vax blockades to the militarized tactics used by cops at Indigenous-led land defence movements, Black Lives Matter marches, and encampments for unhoused folks.
The blockades have further bolstered political division across Canada. Conservative politicians across the country, including Alberta MLA Grant Hunter and MP Martin Shields, have come out to support the blockaders. Former Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer met up with some of the convoy members in Saskatchewan. On Friday, Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole became the only federal party leader in Canada to meet with the convoy—a move that has been criticized for legitimizing the fringe and anti-science views touted during the protests. On Monday, CBC reported that members of O’Toole’s conservative caucus are ready to trigger a leadership vote that could take place as early as Wednesday. In the meantime, Singh is waiting until blockades subside before he goes back out. “Usually I take two days off and I work, but if I don't get news from the border then I am not planning to work,” Singh said.Follow Anya Zoledziowski on Twitter.