Hundreds of vehicles lined up at the Husky Travel Centre in Niagara-on-the-Lake Saturday afternoon to hit the road together in protest of ongoing COVID-19 safety mandates.
While there weren't many tractor-trailers — and it was unclear if the ones that were there were part of the group or just working — but there were hundreds of cars and trucks dressed up in Canadian flags and political messages to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The group, which did “slow roll” drive along Niagara roads to Grimsby, is part of a larger nationwide movement that's fed up with vaccines, masks and measures in place to protect the population from the ongoing threat of COVID-19.
Chris Smith, a Niagara-on-the-Lake resident, was there to show support, dressed in a tin hat and a homemade sandwich board sign that read: “3rd vax and not free!”
As his sign says, Smith has been fully vaccinated as well as a booster dose, but he wonders why he's still being restricted from certain activities after following all of the advice he was told to follow.
“First it was two weeks to flatten the curve. And here we are starting our third year. And it seems like everybody else in the world is reasonably back to normal but for some reason Canada, we're still we're still lagging behind,” he said.
“You know, people sit on their couch and they watch TV and see what other people are doing in the world, you know, go to the games and they don't mention (COVID).”
He said his two daughters live in Buffalo and it's not really a conversation they have anymore. He'd like to see a similar attitude in Canada, noting that with vaccination rates high in Canada, he thinks there should be a move toward reopening more of the country.
He said he misses the “simple things,” like visiting friends and family without wearing a mask, and is wondering if there's any end in sight.
Smith said he's typically not one for protests.
“Honestly, this is the first protest I've ever been at in my whole life,” he said.
“(But) who would have thought six years ago that we'd be where we are now? And like I said, like what's the future? You know?”
The Canadian and U.S. governments have put restrictions on truck drivers crossing the border to deliver goods and Smith questions those restrictions now when they were delivering during the initial waves of the pandemic.
“In the darkest days of 2020, the trucks were allowed to go back and forth to maintain the supply chain. But here we are, in the third year, 90 per cent of the people apparently are vaccinated and yet I was at Walmart two weeks in a row and you could start to see the shelves getting empty. So how come they're hitting the truckers all of a sudden, you know?”
Asked the significance of wearing a tin hat, Smith said it was in response to comments by Trudeau.
“Trudeau was on TV just last week saying that we're a fringe minority of tin hats. And actually, I had to Google what tin hat was — it's the whole conspiracy theorists thing — so I mean, what are we supposed to believe? We've taken our vaccination, right? And yet, we still can't do a lot. So what are you supposed to think? Is this a real thing going on? Or is it deeper?”
He said he isn't regretful of taking the vaccine, but hoped it would mean more freedoms opening up.
“I've taken measles, mumps, chickenpox, like everybody else. So now triple-vaxxed, and they never mention herd immunity anymore.”
He said he's frustrated with what he sees as moving the goalposts for vaccines.
“First, they said 80 per cent (to get to) herd immunity … we achieve these goals of immunity, and they move the goalposts and it's always more and more.”
He said he just wants things to get “back to normal.”
“When was the last time you took your wife or girlfriend to a nice restaurant and didn't have to worry about wearing your mask and you didn't feel odd?”
Clarence Vanderhout, a long-haul trucker from Smithville, was riding with the convoy.
He said he's lost his job due to the border restrictions, though his company is giving him local work.
“I'm here to protest the mandates. I have 45 years of over-the-road driving experience. JT says I'm unqualified now because of a vaccine. We need the mandates replaced or rescinded totally. We need the freedom back to Canada,” he said.
He said he believes Trudeau has “divided the country so badly.”
“I've never in all my life seen such fear in people,” he said.
Normally, he would be trucking dry goods into the U.S. midwest. He hasn't been able to do so since Jan. 15.
Vanderhout said he and his wife are part of a like-minded religious movement called “For Such a Time as This,” which is joining in the protests.
“We were actually in Ottawa last week, and we're going back next week. We're scared the way it's going. And it has to stop,” he said.
“You may not see a lot of truckers here. But look, here's your fringe group right here — they're not driving any of the big rigs, but you know what, these people are all worried about their freedoms.”