Convoy opposing trucker vaccine mandate draws large crowd, concerns over comparison to Holocaust
A cross-Canada freedom convoy in opposition of a federal vaccine mandate for truckers arrived in Winnipeg to a large and boisterous crowd of hundreds of people but some were left disappointed when the convoy couldn’t stop Tuesday afternoon to greet them due to traffic safety reasons.
People and long lines of vehicles gathered on both shoulders of Highway 1 in Headingley, just west of Winnipeg to show support.
An RCMP officer on scene said police along with convoy organizers both decided it was unsafe for the group to stop because there were so many people along the road and there was no room for the trucks to stop in the Flying J truck stop which was supposed to serve as a pit stop for the rally.
“It’s just simply for safety,” said RCMP Sgt. Mark Hume, who was one of several officers on scene directing traffic on the highway near the truck stop.
The RCMP blocked the entrance to the truck stop and the convoy carried on east.
“There’s too many people gathered in there, too many vehicles,” Hume said. “We’ve talked to the organizer on the road and he said he can’t fit his semis in there.”
“It’s just the parking lot filled up. We had every intention of not stopping them but there’s too many people. We’re going to get people run over. They don’t think they can swing the corner with their semis and fit in there so they said they wanted to keep going through.”
RCMP officers were on scene throughout the rally and said in an email the convoy was 20 km long.
Ward Omchinksi, a supporter of the convoy and a former truck driver, was among many who stood in the bitter cold to greet the convoy.
“This mandate—what they’re doing here, this is affecting so many people,” Omchinski said. “They’re affecting the lives, they’re affecting the livelihood, they’re taking away jobs from people—it’s time to stop.”
The convoy has gained notoriety in the wake of the federal government’s vaccine mandate for truckers but an organizer of the pit stop to greet the travellers acknowledged the concern goes beyond just that one issue.
“We’re fighting for our human rights that our forefathers fought for and we want to make sure that we still have our freedoms and rights,” said Trevor Gatchell, who helped organize the pit stop at the Flying J where he expected the convoy to stop. “They’re not anti-vax, they’re not pro-vax it’s just about freedom of choice, freedom of rights that we’ve had.”
The convoy is on its way to Ottawa to oppose the mandate—a protest both the Canadian Trucking Alliance and Manitoba Trucking Association have distanced themselves from, calling the demonstrations ineffective and unsafe. The two groups have also said most truckers are vaccinated.
Some are also questioning some of the comparisons being made between the pandemic and the Holocaust by attendees at the rally. A blue pickup truck with a decal featuring a yellow star and the word freedom over top of it was observed at the rally Tuesday and at a similar rally in Winnipeg on Monday.
Belle Jarniewski, executive director of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada, said in occupied countries Jews were forced to identify themselves by wearing a yellow star.
“Of course that made persecution, arrest much easier,” said Jarniewski, whose parents survived the Holocaust. “In a way to separate them and persecute them from the rest of society. That is not what is happening today with COVID restrictions.”
“It’s shameful. It is a distortion of history to compare the health restrictions that are in place at the moment to protect us, to keep us safe and alive for that matter to the labelling of Jews that resulted in the murder of six million men, women and children.”
Despite all of the opposition to Canada’s vaccine mandate for truckers, little has been said of new rules in the United States which require all travellers entering at a land border to be fully vaccinated both for essential and non-essential travel.
The rally was held amid public health measures in Manitoba which limit gatherings to 50 people in outdoor public places, however, gatherings are allowed if people remain in or near their vehicles to maintain two metres of separation from other attendees.
At times, groups of people gathered away from their vehicles.
Flying J, the company that runs the truck stop where the rally was held said it respects the rights of individuals to express their opinions.
“Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our team members and guests and we will continue to monitor the situation,” the company said.
However, most customers in the truck stop were observed unmasked despite a sign on the door requiring face coverings.
When asked if it was investigating the rally, the province would only say any charges or tickets will be noted in its upcoming enforcement bulletin.
The RCMP said Tuesday afternoon no tickets connected to the rally were handed out.
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