Canadian trucker protest aggravates some, inspires others
Pastors express support after defying lockdown restrictions
When the Freedom Convoy of truckers protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates drove down Highway 401 in Ontario, Canada, Pastor Jacob Reaume took his children out to see it. People crowded nearby fields and overpasses to wave to the drivers.
“It’s overwhelming to see people stand up for freedom,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life—no one has. I talk to older people and they’ve never seen anything like this.”
On, Jan. 29, the convoy arrived in the capital city of Ottawa, where thousands of people joined in a weekend protest against COVID-19 restrictions, including a vaccine mandate for truckers that took effect on Jan. 15. Many of the truckers have remained in downtown Ottawa and said they will not leave until the government lifts the mandates. Officials and residents of the city say the protest puts public safety at risk. They are using policing and legal tactics to try to force the truckers to leave. For Reaume and others upset by how Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions have limited their freedom, the convoy and its related protests signal hope and change.
“The churches that have been faithful during COVID-19 support the truckers,” Reaume said, referencing congregations and pastors who have faced jail, lawsuits, and fines for defying local and provincial gathering restrictions. Last week, Reaume’s church, Trinity Bible Chapel of Waterloo, Ontario, concluded three days of arguments in its legal challenge to church gathering limits and worship restrictions. Last year, the government imposed multiple fines against the church and temporarily seized and locked its building. Reaume said God is using the Freedom Convoy “to bring international attention to the horrifying things Canadians have lived through over the past few years.”
Truckers have intermittently blocked border crossings between the United States and Canada at Niagara Falls and in Alberta. During an emergency debate in the Canadian House of Commons on Monday evening, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the protesters of trying to derail the country’s democracy. He said the federal government would provide the city of Ottawa with the resources needed to end the protests. The city has asked for 1,800 more officers to enforce traffic rules. Ottawa police say the protests cost the city between $1.8 million to $2.2 million daily for policing services. Residents complain of poor air quality, blaring horns day and night, and unsanitary conditions on the streets. Some locals have sued the leaders of the protest movement, and on Monday, an Ontario judge granted a 10-day injunction to stop truckers in downtown Ottawa from honking their horns. Many businesses and restaurants in the area have shut down since the convoy arrived.
“We understand your frustration and genuinely wish there was another way for us to get our message across, but the responsibility for your inconvenience lies squarely on the shoulders of politicians who have preferred to vilify and call us names rather than engage in respectful, serious dialogue,” senior leader of the Freedom Convoy group Chris Barber said in a written statement.
A GoFundMe page for the Freedom Convoy raised over $10 million Canadian dollars in a little over one week. The website closed the fundraiser, saying it violated its terms of service, and said it would refund all donations. The Freedom Convoy now has a page on GiveSendGo, a crowdfunding website for Christian fundraisers. As of Tuesday, the campaign had raised more than $6 million.
Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church near Edmonton, Alberta, was arrested and spent a month in prison in January 2021 for keeping his church open and not requiring masks, social distancing, or limiting the capacity to 15 percent, a violation of Alberta’s COVID-19 restrictions. In a Jan. 29 Instagram Live post with his wife Erin, he said, “What’s happening right now across Canada is restoring my hope in this country and I’m thrilled the truckers have taken the stand that they have.”
In addition to speaking out in support of the convoy, some pastors like Sheldon Andreas are joining it. In an interview from the cab of his truck with Tucker Carlson of Fox News, he said he wasn’t concerned about the possible repercussions of the convoy: “Some of my friends have been arrested for pastoring their churches. We’re fully prepared to smile and push through for the greater good.”
Christians have brought food and written notes to encourage the truckers. The school at Reaume’s Trinity Bible Chapel and churches across Canada have also said they are praying for the protesters. A friend of Reaume’s went up to Ottawa to preach to the convoy.
Reaume said he wished pastors who stood up for in-person worship during COVID-19 had led the movement. “The churches and Christians need to assert the supremacy of God over the church, government, and legislation,” he said. “We need a reformation in church, culture, and legislation. I see a movement in the Canadian churches that took a stand—we’re at the tip of the spear.”
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