Little effect seen in cross-border traffic after Canada vaccine mandate

A COVID-19 vaccine mandate imposed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for cross-border truckers that took effect on Jan. 15 is having little impact on trucking capacity between the two nations.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance has estimated that 85% of Canada’s 120,000 truckers were vaccinated. Earlier, Canadian truck drivers and other “essential” workers had been exempt from Canada’s two-week quarantine for unvaccinated travelers crossing between the two countries.

But Canada Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the new vaccine mandate targeting truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border has had little impact on the number of trailers entering the country to deliver goods.

“So far there is no sign whatsoever that the mandate has had an impact on the volume of trucks crossing the borders,” Mr. Alghabra said at a press conference. “That does not mean that there aren’t any supply-chain disruptions; it does not mean that there aren’t any challenges out there; and it doesn’t mean that people aren’t finding enough truckers to carry their load.”

His assessment showed about 100,000 trucks entered Canada in the seven days after the mandate began Jan. 15. That is roughly the same as previous levels, according to Statistics Canada.

Last November, nearly 400,000 Canadian trucks re-entered the country from the U.S., according to Statistics Canada. That same agency said about 65,000 U.S. trucks crossed into Canada that month.

According to U.S. trade data, two-way trade between the U.S. and Canada totaled more than $600 billion in 2019, the last full year for which data were available. About 80% of those goods go by truck, officials estimate.

On Jan. 15, Canada began requiring U.S. and other non-Canadian truckers to be fully vaccinated to gain entry into the country. On Jan. 22, the U.S. imposed a similar requirement. That effectively bars unvaccinated Canadian truck drivers from hauling goods across the border for delivery in this country.

The Canadian Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Public Safety has emphasized that drivers of all vehicles—including heavy trucks—“will have to show proof of vaccination to be able to go into Canada, whether they are an essential worker or not.”

Canadian truck drivers who opt to go without being vaccinated will be required to quarantine for 14 days upon returning to Canada, the ministries said.

What American trucking officials fear is that U.S.-based carriers, faced with heavy freight demands domestically, will eschew trips into Canada because they don’t have enough drivers to handle cross-border moves.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ruling requiring vaccination for companies with more than 100 employees will complicate cross-border traffic decisions. Because there is no U.S. mandate for vaccinations, trucking executives say, requiring drivers to be vaccinated to go into Canada will complicate operations considerably.

Canada’s trucker vaccine mandate has prompted some drivers and their supporters to organize a controversial protest in Ottawa demanding the Liberal government drop all vaccine mandates and social restrictions.

Recently about 500 protesters walked around parked trucks in the Canadian capital in what organizers called a “Freedom Convoy.” But in reality, most of the protesters appeared to be non-truckers. Many people waving Canadian flags and homemade signs. They called for the vaccine mandates to end.

The Freedom Convoy has had an ugly side. A Nazi swastika and a Confederate flag were seen in the crowd in Ottawa. A statue of runner Terry Fox, a Canadian national hero, was desecrated, as were other Canadian monuments.

While the Freedom Convoy has been noisy, it’s been an economic success. A GoFundMe campaign raised close to $10 million (Canadian, about $8 million U.S.). But the crowdfunding platform recently canceled the Freedom Convoy account for violating its terms of service “which prohibits the promotion of violence and harassment.”

Still, the Freedom Convoy has its backers. “We want those great Canadian truckers to know that we are with them all the way,” former President Donald Trump said at a rally in Texas in late January. The former President called Trudeau a “far-left lunatic” for his COVID-19 rules and restrictions.

About the Author

John D. Schulz

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. John is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis.

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