Trucking companies steer clear of Ottawa protests

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Ontario-based trucking companies don’t appear to have been overwhelmed with interest from their drivers to participate in this week’s ‘Freedom Convoy’ to Ottawa.

However, many have in place rules that would prevent their company’s branded equipment from being associated with the political movement.

“I’m not aware of any drivers or owner-operators at any KTG company wanting to participate and if they asked, they would not be permitted to do so on our time or with any of our equipment we own or control. What they choose to do with their time is really not our business,” said Mark Seymour, CEO of Kriska Transportation Group. “We do not want any of our brands associated with the convoy or protest.”

The same was true at Challenger Motor Freight, which has a vaccination rate of about 90% among its drivers. Geoff Topping, vice-president – people and culture, said “We have not received a lot of interest from our drivers or owner-operators in participating in the convoy. We as an organization do not support this type of action and its impact on safety and the motoring public. As such, we request our drivers and owner-operators avoid this situation.”

Topping said no Challenger owner-operators expressed interest in participating. “However, if they had, we would have asked for any Challenger-specific identification be removed,” he added.

Marilyn Daniel, chief operating officer with Titanium Transportation said “We have no one in the convoy at all. As a company, we supported the directives of the Ontario Trucking Association and Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), which was not supportive of the convoy which, by the way, is actually small.”

When told news footage from the convoy showed a Titanium tractor-trailer seemingly caught up in the jam, she said “The image of our truck and trailer was an old snip from the border. I have seen it before.”

Trucking companies sharing the road with the protesters run the risk of getting tied up in the traffic it has created.

“We experienced some roadway delays over the past week, however the impact was not significant,” said Challenger’s Topping.

“I’m sure it has slowed us down, just like it has others who we share the highway with. Beyond that, it hasn’t been good or bad for operations,” added Seymour.

Sharp Transportation took to social media to remind drivers to be cautious of who they associate with.

“To all participants of the Freedom Convoy, the eyes and ears of the public are open. You have set out to make a statement for change. Most of you have set out with positive intentions for peaceful assembly and productive messaging,” the message said. “In light of circulating rumors concerning pending chaos and anarchy, we would like to remind everyone, our children are watching you. Please remain the heroes and do not allow an abundance of passion to muddy the waters and transform you into the villain … Every one of you has a decision to make. Do you want to be heard for noise and chaos or for impact and change? Your actions will define which message is received.”

President Shawn Baird said of Sharp drivers, “If they wanted to, they could [participate]. But not in a Sharp vehicle.”

He said the convoy’s impact on operations has been “very minimal.”

truck driver vaccine protest
(Photo: John G. Smith)

At Wellington Motor Freight, there was some interest from company drivers to participate. CEO Derek Koza did some shift juggling to accommodate them – but not in company trucks.

“We did have a handful of company drivers ask, however due to overwhelming demand we told the drivers that they are free to join the convoy in their personal vehicles should they wish, however our assets are needed in order to support our customers and keep the supply chain moving,” Koza said. “Currently all full-time company drivers are set to report back to work on Monday Jan. 31, and there was no absence due to the convoy last week either.”

He pointed out another reason company equipment can’t be seen in such events: “Due to insurance concerns we would not allow company branded equipment to participate in the convoy as the usage would be outside of the scope of our policy use. Wellington Group of Companies will not block ​individuals from using their personal vehicles and participating in the convoy should they wish as we support freedom of speech in a respectful and peaceful delivery.”

Suppliers to the trucking industry, especially those serving owner-operators, also had a choice to make in whether or not to publicly support drivers taking part. Aaron Lindsay, vice-president of marketing with NAL Insurance said it wasn’t an easy decision. NAL Insurance has been publicly thanking professional drivers for their service throughout the pandemic through its Thank a Trucker initiative.

“Our advice to any professional truck driver or trucking company that is making the trip to Ottawa is to make the Freedom Convoy a peaceful and safe demonstration that has a positive impact on the trucking industry and all of Canada,” Lindsay said in a statement on LinkedIn. “Don’t let the actions of a few (who may or may not be in the trucking industry) change the narrative of the professional truck driver and the trucking industry because the eyes of all of Canada and the world are on you right now.”

The CTA on Saturday also took steps to distance the industry from the events in Ottawa.

“As these protests unfold over the weekend, we ask the Canadian public to be aware that many of the people you see and hear in media reports do not have a connection to the trucking industry,” the CTA said in the statement.

“To those in the trucking industry that have chosen to participate in this protest regarding cross-border mandates, we ask that you engage in a peaceful demonstration today then leave the city of Ottawa to avoid any issues to the welfare and safety of the citizens of Ottawa. Your behavior today will not only reflect upon you and your family but the 300,000 plus fellow Canadians that, like you, take great pride in our industry. Please remember this important responsibility you bear today in delivering your message responsibly but also the impact your actions will have on the image of the majority of your colleagues from coast-to-coast who do not share your opinion but share your passion for the industry and country.”

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