A convoy of truckers opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates is making its way through southwestern Ontario on Thursday, bringing traffic headaches while drawing scorn from some and praise from others.
Hundreds of people gathered in London at a local truck stop and on an overpass across Highway 401, waiting for the convoy to arrive from Windsor and Sarnia, the region's two border points with the United States.
People waved flags and drank coffee as the convoy's arrival was delayed, in part due to a serious collision earlier in the morning that closed the eastbound lanes of the highway near Tilbury.
"I worked for two years to bring goods and services, and toilet paper and everything to everyone. We went through having no showers, no bathrooms, no food — we starved sometimes for days on end on the road — and nobody cared about us then, and now all of a sudden, they care," said convoy trucker Bridgette Belton, who owns and operates her own rig running food products and containers between Canada and the United States.
"My husband and I spend 269 days a year away from each other, away from home, working for Canada to bring their goods and services to market and to bring goods and services to Canadians."
The protest is being organized by Canada Unity, a group that opposes COVID-19-related measures.
Its organizers want Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government to drop the vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the Canada-U.S. border, and do away with other public health protections.
The convoy was to meet up with others from across Canada on Saturday in Ottawa for a large demonstration.
Belton, of Wallaceburg, said she and other truckers will meet in Sarnia and Windsor before making their way via Highway 401 to Ottawa, with stops in Chatham, London and other municipalities.
Truckers heading for Ottawa from other parts of the country have been met with supporters. That also happened in southwestern Ontario, where people waved Canadian flags and honked in support of the convoy Thursday.
Ontario Provincial Police say they're aware of the protest and plan to make sure truckers, supporters and other drivers are safe.
"The OPP's role in a situation like this is simply to keep the public peace," said police spokesperson Derek Rogers.
"We want to keep demonstrators safe. We want to keep motorists who are sharing the road with the demonstrators safe, and if anyone gathers to watch the convoy roll through, we want to ensure that those folks are safe, too."
Since the convoy of trucks and other vehicles left British Columbia for Ottawa, extremists and fringe groups have taken to social media to encourage followers to descend on the capital and destroy property and threaten elected officials, which has been denounced by the organizers.
Trucking groups oppose convoy
The Canadian Trucking Alliance and the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) have both come out against the convoy, saying 90 per cent of cross-border truckers are vaccinated.
"The government of Canada and the United States have now made being vaccinated a requirement to cross the border. This regulation is not changing so, as an industry, we must adapt and comply with this mandate," said OTA president Stephen Laskowski.
"The only way to cross the border, in a commercial truck or any other vehicle, is to get vaccinated."
The OPP urged people lining highways and overpasses in support of the convoy to be aware of their surroundings and keep safe.