By Andrew Chen and Isaac Teo
February 9, 2022 Updated: February 9, 2022
The Ottawa trucker protest against COVID-19 mandates and restrictions has expanded, with blockages at two key Canada-U.S. borders and rallies joined by thousands in provincial capitals.
Meanwhile, as the protests persist and opposition parties debate the Liberals’ pandemic policies, two Liberal MPs dissented from their government’s position this week, citing its divisive COVID-19 policies and rhetoric that demonizes those protesting the policies.
Polls are also showing that a greater number of Canadians want COVID-19 restrictions lifted.
Protesters started gathering at Ambassador Bridge, the crossing that connects Windsor, Ont., and Detroit, Mich., on Feb. 6. As of Feb. 9, the border remained blocked.
On the other side of the country, protesting truckers have had a blockade in place at the border crossing in Coutts, Alta., since Jan. 29. Single lanes were opened in each direction after an initial blockade last week, but protesters moved in to close those lanes again on Feb. 8. On Feb. 9, RCMP indicated it would enforce removing the blockade.
Although Alberta is ending its COVID-19 vaccine program, the protesters in Coutts are requesting that other restrictions, including federal mandates, be lifted as well.
Federal and provincial governments have said the blockages could have a major impact on the supply chain and the flow of goods into the country.
“The Ambassador Bridge is a vital artery to our country, and it’s a vital artery in our supply chain. It’s central to the functioning of our economy, and to serving all Canadians. The Blockade must end before further damage occurs,” Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said of the Windsor border blockade at a news conference on Feb. 9.
The White House weighed in on the border closure at Windsor as well, saying on Feb. 9 that the blockage “poses a risk to supply chains for the auto industry because the bridge is a key conduit for motor vehicles components and parts.”
Bernie Berg, who is taking part in the blockade at Ambassador Bridge, says the protesters want provincial and federal governments to end all mandates, which he says have caused people to lose jobs and resulted in mental health issues.
“It’s not that we want to do this, but we have to send Ottawa a message because of these terrible mandates that have harmed so many people,” Berg, a pastor from Leamington, Ont., told The Epoch Times on Feb. 9.
The truckers’ Freedom Convoy began as a demonstration against a federal government requirement for cross-border truck drivers to have COVID-19 vaccination, but has since ballooned as people across the country joined in opposition to various COVID-19 mandates and restrictions.
Convoys of protesters first converged in Ottawa on Saturday, Jan. 29, with crowds in the tens of thousands gathering in protest and many vowing to remain in the capital until the federal government lifts its mandates. During the weekend of Feb. 5–6, thousands protested in different cities, including provincial capitals such as Toronto, Quebec City, Victoria, and Winnipeg.
Other convoys have also started a “slow roll” through major arteries, from Halifax on the East Coast to the Okanagan on the West Coast.
The issue of the protesting truckers has become an almost daily topic of discussion in the House of Commons, as the Opposition Conservatives urge the governing Liberals to cease the “politicization” of pandemic policies, while the NDP says the government must do something to end the “crisis” as the truckers and their supporters continue to remain encamped in Ottawa.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has linked the protesters with hateful and racist movements and has refused to meet with them or send representatives to hear their concerns.
Citing Trudeau’s rhetoric against the protesters and the “politicization of the pandemic,” Quebec Liberal MP Joël Lightbound said at a press conference on Feb. 8 that he disagrees with his own party and that those voicing legitimate concerns shouldn’t be vilified.
The next day, fellow Quebec Liberal MP Yves Robillard followed his colleague’s lead and said publicly that many in the Liberal caucus think like Lightbound.
A poll by Leger conducted between Feb. 4 and Feb. 6 showed that more than 40 percent of Canadians believe that the prime minister and provincial premiers share the blame for the ongoing truckers’ protest in Ottawa because of their “condescending attitude” toward Canadians who oppose COVID-19 mandates and restrictions.
Another survey, by Angus Reid published on Jan. 31, showed that a slim majority (54 percent) of Canadians want all COVID-19 restrictions lifted.
Dissenting Liberal MPs
At his press conference on Feb. 8, Lightbound said legitimate concerns about restrictive policies should not be dismissed, and governments should not “demonize those who voiced them.”
The MP, who represents the Louis-Hébert riding in Quebec City, said such an approach needs to stop. He said the vaccination issue is being used by Trudeau as a wedge to divide people and score political points.
“I can’t help but notice with regret that both the tone and the policies of my government changed drastically on the eve of and during the last election campaign,” he said.
“From a positive and unifying approach, a decision was made to wedge, to divide, and to stigmatize. I fear that this politicization of the pandemic risks undermining the public’s trust in our public health institutions.”
Along with his plea to tone down the rhetoric, Lightbound made other recommendations to move forward, saying the government should provide a roadmap with measurable targets, such as hospitalization levels, to lift all restrictions within its purview.
He said Canadians are finding it harder to comply with restrictions because the government “no longer cares to explain them,” adding that policies such as the vaccine mandate for truckers is neither based on science nor economically sound.
In an interview with The Hill Times on Feb. 9, Robillard said that Lightbound “said exactly what a lot of us think” and that he agrees with everything Lightbound said.
Robillard said he spoke with Lightbound on Feb. 9 and expressed his support. He said the two would be working together on the issue.
He said he is not worried about being expelled from caucus, saying there are other MPs “who’ve just had enough” and “are not going to pass the rest of our mandate like that.”
Chief Government Whip Steven MacKinnon said on Feb. 8 that Lightbound will be stepping down as the chair of the Quebec Liberal Caucus but will remain a Liberal MP.
“He has expressed disagreements with government policy. Subsequently, Mr. Lightbound has resigned as chair of the Quebec Liberal Caucus. He has expressed clear confidence in the government, and remains a member of the Liberal caucus,” MacKinnon said in a statement.
Following Lightbound’s remarks, interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen said her party “could not agree more,” saying Lightbound “clearly and strongly stated it’s time to end the divisiveness and the politicization and end the mandates.”
“When it comes to lockdowns and mandates, we’re seeing things change very quickly and rightly so,” Bergen added, noting recent comments from Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, that vaccine mandates should be reevaluated.
While Trudeau acknowledged that people are tired of pandemic-related restrictions, he said his government will “continue to follow the science” on appropriate health measures.
“Everyone is sick and tired of lockdowns, of the measures we have to do, of the sacrifices we’ve had to make, but Canadians have continued to step up over the past two years, been there for each other, been there to get vaccinated,” he said during question period on Feb. 8.
Trudeau expelled former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus after they dissented over the SNC-Lavalin scandal in 2019.
On social media on Feb. 8, Wilson-Raybould and Philpott welcomed Lightbound’s dissent.
“Glimmers of democratic independence from MPs in Ottawa (Canada needs a wave of this),” Wilson-Raybould tweeted.
“Thoughts from a speech I wrote for caucus but was not able to deliver, April 2, 2019: It is healthy for democracy if MPs respectfully express different opinions,” Philpott tweeted.
Noé Chartier and Lisa Lin contributed to this report.