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‘Hopefully it does something’: We spoke to several truckers at a Sudbury truck stop to get their thoughts on the ‘Freedom Convoy’

The anti-vaccine mandate Convoy to Ottawa 2022 is expected to reach Greater Sudbury from Sault Ste. Marie at some point on Friday morning, stopping at Nairn Centre, west of the city

Truckers passing through Greater Sudbury earlier this week appeared largely supportive of the Convoy to Ottawa 2022 protest, which is expected to reach the city on Friday. 

The convoy in opposition to vaccine mandates is about “free choice,” Edmonton-based long-haul trucker Tracey France said while walking to his truck at the Petro Canada truck stop on Regent Street earlier this week. 

“If you don’t want something stabbed into your body they shouldn’t,” he said, adding that although he has been vaccinated against COVID-19, he’s no longer confident it had much of an impact.

After all, he said, people who have been vaccinated against the virus can still get it – a point that doesn’t address the fact that the unvaccinated are at a statistically greater risk of facing serious outcomes if they contract the virus.

The convoy of Canadian truckers is on its way to Ottawa and is expected to pass by Greater Sudbury on Friday, following a scheduled stop at Nairn Centre, west of the city, for a rally at 10 a.m. 

Although those taking part in the rally have shared various messages along their way across the nation, their core stated purpose has been opposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates at the Canada-U.S. border. In conversation with a reporter, Jason LaFace, a Sudbury man who serves as the convoy’s main organizer in Ontario, also likened mask mandates to Nazi Germany. 

Sudbury.com visited the Petro Canada truck stop on Regent Street earlier this week to gauge truckers’ support for the convoy. Most of the truck drivers shared France’s sentiment that vaccines are ineffective and should not be mandated.

A notable exception was Brampton-based trucker Raman Brar, who said he’s fully vaccinated and waiting for an opportunity to get a booster shot. 

The vast majority of truckers are vaccinated, he said, adding that the unvaccinated shouldn’t be too great a problem.

While he believes the messaging of health professionals who say the vaccine will make the pandemic safer for everyone, he said, “We can’t change the minds of everyone.”

Although some truckers who Sudbury.com approached expressed disinterest in the matter altogether, the balance of those willing to speak said that they opposed the mandate. 

Their belief in the vaccine’s effectiveness varied.

Montreal-based trucker Dominic Gingras said he’s still on the fence about the vaccine due to various reports he’s read and heard about, adding, “One thing’s for sure, I’m tired of this COVID.”

Sudbury trucker JC Gagnon said that although he’s supportive of the rally, he’s pessimistic it will accomplish anything. The “rich” decision-makers in Ottawa will have left the nation’s capital city by the time the convoy gets there, he said.

“Hopefully it does something,” he said. “We’re Canada, we shouldn’t be forced to do anything.”

Gagnon has limited his work to short-haul jobs due to what he said are too many restrictions on long-haul truck drivers, and that the vaccine “tops it off.”

He’d sooner quit his job than get vaccinated.

“What I’m against is dictatorship,” Straffordville-based trucker KC Fisher said, likening things like vaccine mandates to Nazi Germany. 

“I thought we won World War Two.”

It’s all about personal choice, Arthur-based trucker Willy Gingrich said. 

“You should be free to do what you do,” he said, adding that people’s livelihoods are at stake. Although his work doesn’t require him to cross into the United States, he’s standing in solidarity with his colleagues impacted by the vaccine mandate.

An Ontario Trucking Association spokesperson declined comment on the convoy, and pointed to a written statement from the Canadian Trucking Alliance as applying to their organization.

“The vast majority of the Canadian trucking industry is vaccinated with the overall industry vaccination rate among truck drivers closely mirroring that of the general public,” according to the alliance’s statement. 

“Accordingly, most of our nation’s hard-working truck drivers are continuing to move cross-border and domestic freight to ensure our economy continues to function.”

The alliance also indicates that they strongly disapprove of any protests on public roadways, highways and bridges. 

“Such actions – especially those that interfere with public safety – are not how disagreements with government policies should be expressed,” according to the alliance. 

“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. What is not acceptable is disrupting the motoring public on highways and commerce at the border.”

The Ontario Trucking Association estimates the vaccination rate among truck drivers to be in line with the Canadian average of 80 to 85 per cent. 

Last week, Health Sciences North reached a record-setting number of COVID patients admitted at one time, at 61, which is more than twice as many as were in the hospital in a single day in all of 2020 and 2021. 

Today, there were 506 COVID patients in Ontario intensive care units and 89 new deaths reported.

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.