On the side of highways and on overpasses, people waving placards and Canadian flags greeted a convoy of truckers as they rolled through Barrie and into the Greater Toronto area, en route to Ottawa for a weekend rally on Parliament Hill.
Truckers and their supporters gathered at the Onroute on Highway 400 in Innisfil Thursday morning, then left around 9 a.m.
The Freedom Convoy, as it has been dubbed, started in British Columbia, and has taken on a life of its own. The protest was initially organized to demonstrate against cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandates. But it has blossomed to a point where individuals participating in the protest have since expressed that it is also about various other policies infringing on their freedoms.
“I have got lots of connections in the transportation sector,” said Deborah Foster-Stahle, a Barrie businesswoman. “I am not in the transportation sector, but they’re not just driving for the transportation sector, they are driving for freedom.”
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested the protestors are a “small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa who are holding unacceptable views” when it comes to public health restrictions. He has said those individuals “do not represent the views of Canadians.”
Trudeau announced on Twitter Thursday morning that he was exposed to COVID-19 and will be isolating for five days. He said his rapid test result was negative, and he feels fine.
Last night, I learned that I have been exposed to COVID-19. My rapid test result was negative. I am following @OttawaHealth rules and isolating for five days. I feel fine and will be working from home. Stay safe, everyone – and please get vaccinated.— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 27, 2022
The Canadian Trucking Alliance has also made it clear that it has nothing to do with the protest.
Nigel, who gathered at the Onroute, is from Haliburton, and he said this convoy is not about being anti-vax.
“It’s got nothing to do with that,” he said. “It’s the government taking away our freedoms, and we want our freedoms back with no mandate.”
Traffic became so congested on Highway 400 and 401, the OPP Highway Traffic Safety Division tweeted that first responders were having difficulty reaching emergencies.
**Alert** Emergency Responders have experienced difficulty responding to emergencies. Reminder to all motorists to stay alert and be aware if emergency/first responders need to get through congested traffic.— OPP Highway Safety Division (@OPP_HSD) January 27, 2022
A trucker, who did not want to be identified, hoped the protest would send a message to young people.
“To the kids out here watching, I am a 32-year-old oversize hauler, and if you got big hopes and dreams then go for them kids, because you never know where they are going to lead you.”
Since the convoy left British Columbia, police have acknowledged that it has been peaceful and organizers have cooperated.
However, Ottawa police said in a series of messages posted on Twitter on Thursday that they have become aware of “inappropriate and threatening language on social media” related to the event.
Police and our partners are focused on providing a safe environment for the community and demonstrators. We are aware of inappropriate and threatening language on social media related to this event. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/hOyOUmuJK0— Ottawa Police (@OttawaPolice) January 27, 2022
“We welcome peaceful demonstrations. That said, public safety is paramount – there will be consequences for persons engaging in criminal conduct, violence and/or activities promoting hate,” they said.