A large convoy of truck drivers and supporters making its way to Ottawa to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates was greeted by a throng of supporters Tuesday on the outskirts of Winnipeg.
Some waved signs while others handed out sandwiches, snacks and water as the truckers slowly rolled by. Some brought family members and cheered as the thermometer stayed below -20 C.
Many greeting the convoy were parked in a line stretching roughly one kilometre. More supporters filled an adjacent gas station parking lot.
“If we’re willing to do this, and truckers are willing to give up their income and do this, you know we stand for something,” Laurie Hamilton, a 66-year-old retiree, said as she stood beside the road with her daughter.
The convoy, which started in British Columbia, has grown as it rolls east. There were about 1,200 trucks and other vehicles by the time it reached Regina on Monday night, police in the Saskatchewan capital said.
Despite consistent messaging from major world public health agencies that vaccines are safe and effective, and ongoing data showing the unvaccinated are ending up in intensive care at higher rates, many involved in the protest said they don’t trust the vaccine.
“I personally don’t agree with the RNA vaccination, or what they call the vaccination, but … I’ve had every other shot,” Don Ross, a trucker from Dawson Creek, B.C., said while his semi-truck was stopped briefly at a red light.
Not getting vaccinated has meant Ross can’t cross the border. In parts of Canada with vaccine passport requirements, Ross also can’t go into restaurants.
“I can’t go into restaurants. I can’t go into bathrooms. I’m out on the road, going in the bushes with the bears.”
Most of the vehicles in the convoy Tuesday were not semis. There were pickup trucks and the occasional sport utility vehicle. Many were adorned with slogans, signs or flags calling for an end to vaccine mandates, such as the one for truckers.
There were other signs too. A few referenced communism. Some used profanity in talking about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The convoy was expected to overnight in Kenora, Ont., and arrive in Ottawa on Saturday.
There have been fears of extremists latching onto the protest, including a group that has talked online about the convoy’s arrival and subsequent rally in Ottawa possibly spurring an insurrection similar to the one in the United States last year on Jan. 6.
The Parliamentary Protective Service said it is aware of the planned rally. “The Service continuously monitors threats and is closely monitoring the situation.”
Donald Trump Jr., son of former U.S. president Donald Trump, said on Facebook Tuesday that he supports the truck convoy in Canada “fighting against medical discrimination.”
Conservative MP Candice Bergen, in a written statement, said she supports peaceful actions by the truckers.
“Now more than ever, our economy needs to be reopened and we need every sector working in order to recover from the pandemic. I support peaceful demonstrations against these mandates and our truckers from … across Canada.”
Fellow Conservative MPs Andrew Scheer and Warren Steinley also greeted the convoy in Regina on Monday night.
A Calgary woman, who would only give her name as Delores, said the convoy is more than a protest against vaccine mandates for truckers. She said it’s also about an “us versus them” mentality that she believes applies to the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
Several vehicles spotted in Regina waved American and upside-down Canadian flags, while one pickup had a Maverick Party sign – although those involved did not all associate themselves with Western separatism.
One man, who declined to provide his name because he works for an oil and gas company and didn’t want to get reprimanded, said he joined the convoy in Hinton, Alta., with his 12-year-old son.
He said he’s supporting the convoy because he’s tired of seeing his children affected by COVID-19 measures, including restrictions on sports.