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Canada’s Freedom Convoy: The role of Indian-origin truckers and their divisions

About 18 percent of the trucking community in Canada is of South Asian descent.

January 31, 2022 / 12:02 PM IST
Supporters cheer truck drivers on their way to Ottawa in protest of coronavirus vaccine mandates for cross-border truck drivers, in Toronto, Canada. (Photo: REUTERS/Carlos Osorio)

Supporters cheer truck drivers on their way to Ottawa in protest of coronavirus vaccine mandates for cross-border truck drivers, in Toronto, Canada. (Photo: REUTERS/Carlos Osorio)

Indian-origin truckers seem sharply divided over the trucker protests in Canada. The country’s truckers are protesting against their government’s vaccine mandates, and have driven their trucks–loosely named the Freedom Convoy–into the capital city Ottawa, blocking roads.

Truckers of Indian origin have chosen to either join this demonstration, which has largely been peaceful, or they have chosen to stay out of it believing the protest to have been hijacked by right-wing interests. About 18 percent of all Canadian truckers–protestors and otherwise–are those of South Asian origin, according to a 2016 census.

What started it?

On January 15, the Justin Trudeau government rolled out compulsory vaccination for cross-border truckers. Those who enter from the US border would have to be fully vaccinated or have to quarantine for 14 days.

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A few days later, the truckers rose in protest and announced the Freedom Convoy plan. There has already been a building discontent on the pandemic measures that cost many people their livelihoods, which seems to have added momentum to the truckers’ protest.

Who has opted out?

Truckers of South Asian origin who have chosen to skip the protests say there are bigger issues that truckers have to fight for, such as better pay and safer roads.

Speaking to The Globe and Mail, the head of Ontario Aggregate Trucking Association, Jagroop Singh, said, “Nobody invited me or any South Asian truckers I know. In fact, we don’t even know who the organisers of this protest are. Nobody asked us if we agreed with their demands.” In the interview, Singh said.

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“Inflation is hitting us hard. Drivers are quitting every day. Trucking companies are folding every day. The cost of trucking is increasing every day, but truckers are still expected to work at rates they were paid back in the 1980s. Trucking is becoming a tough business.”

Those who are opposed to the Convoy add that it may have started as an opposition to regulations that threaten livelihoods, but now it has become an amalgam of truckers and right-wing sympathisers.

What are the allies saying?

Indeed, the Conservative leaders have opposed the vaccine mandate saying that it will cause a supply chain disruption, and point to empty shelves in supermarkets. If truckers who aren’t vaccinated aren’t allowed to run, who will ensure timely delivery of goods to these retail establishments? They have said that this will lead to a further rise in inflation, which is already at a three-decade high of 4.8 percent.

Trudeau has said that the Conservative are simply doing fear-mongering, and that improving vaccination coverage is the only way to “get through” the pandemic. He has called the trucker protestors and those who hold similar views as a “fringe minority”. Trudeau’s ally and New Democratic Party’s leader Jagmeet Singh has denounced the Freedom Convoy, saying its organisers are spreading “false information” using “inflammatory, divisive and hateful comments”.

Who are the other players?

The country’s intelligence wing is investigating foreign involvement in the funding of the campaign, after seeing a sudden spike in donations to the truckers’ GoFundMe page. GoFundMe has since announced that it will withhold the $4.7 million raised till the fundraisers submit a clear plan on how the money will be spent.

Among the Freedom Convoy’s international supporters is Tesla’s founder and chief Elon Musk. Musk, who has been vocal about his opposition to compulsory vaccination, tweeted: “Canadian truckers rule.”



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