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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4.5 million-miler Smith takes pride in driving, equipment

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Driving 100,000 miles a year for 45 years, Brian Smith estimates he has amassed 4.5 million miles on the road. There are not many places he has not seen in Canada and the U.S.

He has brought several people into the industry, and they have done extremely well. “That’s when you can give yourself that tap on the back,” he said.

Brian Smith, owner-operator at Sharp Transportation. (Photo: Leo Barros)

Smith, 63, an owner-operator for Sharp Transportation based in Cambridge, Ont., started in the business in 1977 at the age of 17, working for a moving company in Ottawa.

He first drove a 26-foot straight truck and graduated to a 32-foot vehicle. Smith then moved to a day-cab tractor hooked to a 36-foot trailer, running from Winnipeg to the East Coast – New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. He said the day-cab had a little diesel engine – a 238 Detroit.

By 1981 he got his CDL and was doing the job full time. He started buying his own trucks in 1985. The veteran driver takes pride in his work and equipment.

He has worked as a company driver too but prefers being an owner-operator. “It’s not that I couldn’t handle it, you kind of lose that edge. The pride, after owning your own equipment for so many years, somewhat being dictated to, wasn’t easy for me.”

Smith was in the moving business for 32 years. He’s also hauled equipment for the television sports industry. The company he worked for covered junior and college football, baseball, and soccer in the U.S. He not only hauled cameras and gear in his truck but also helped hook up cables at the venues.

Back from retirement

He convinced himself to retire a few years ago, but that lasted only a few months. This is his second stint with Sharp and has been with them for the past five years. The last time round, he worked for about eight years.

Smith is on the road for three to five weeks, then heads home to Gatineau, Que. for a week. He is a family man and being away for long periods of time has its challenges.

“Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t,” he said. He has been with his wife for more than two-and-half decades. “From my first marriage I have two children – daughter and son, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren,” Smith said.

He said his wife ran the road with him for many years and knows what it’s like to be out here. “We look forward to spending time together when I am home.”

He has a great relationship with his kids and grandkids, and it makes it easier to be out driving.

Smith said if you are coming into trucking as a job, all it’s going to be is a job, if you are coming into it as a career, you’ll do well.

“There is no relaxation when you are driving. The phone is out of reach, satellite is out of reach. There is a time and place for it.”

Brian Smith, driver

A driver must always to be ready to slow down, and if you are not alert for a split second, he or she could likely get into a bad situation. He’s had just one speeding ticket in 45 years of professional driving.

“There is no relaxation when you are driving. The phone is out of reach, satellite is out of reach. There is a time and place for it. I do have my Bluetooth head set but I am not going to call you. I generally don’t take calls, I let it go to voicemail.”

Smith bemoans the lack of respect from passenger cars and some truck drivers. “We are going down the road with about 70 feet of truck and trailer weighing 80,000 pounds, and these things don’t stop on a dime.”

He said he’s had many good things in trucking, else he would not be doing it. His truck is up for sale. “Does that mean I am leaving as soon as it goes? No.”

Years of constantly being on the clutch have taken their toll. “I am doing therapy now on my hip,” he said. “It’s not because of the moving industry, it’s because of all the years of clutching on the truck. It wore the hip out.”

He said opportunities exist for drivers at good companies and it is financially rewarding. This comes with a warning.

“If you think you are the teacher all the time, you don’t listen to anything else. I don’t think you’d do as well as you could,” he said. “Keep your ears open, eyes open and your mouth shut when it needs to be and learn. You’ll go places.”

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Truck driver training to support anti-trafficking fight


The same Canadian highways that serve as corridors for freight are also used to move the victims of human trafficking. But a new online training resource is engaging the truckers who travel these routes in the fight against the crime.

“This survivor-led human trafficking online training for professional drivers will help assist drivers in knowing what to look for and how they can help eradicate this heinous crime,” said Shelley Uvanile-Hesch, CEO of the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada.

Ontario Transportation Minister Carolyn Mulroney
Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney was among the dignitaries to welcome the new anti-trafficking tool released by the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada. (Photo: John G. Smith)

The federation, working with $47,000 in provincial funding and support from the Trucking Human Resources Sector Council – Atlantic, helped establish the training that will be available through providers such as CarriersEdge and the Ontario Safety League.

While the crime is not unique to Ontario, the province accounted for 1.6 human trafficking incidents per 100,000 residents in 2016.

“Our 400-Series highways are hotbeds of trafficking movement – allowing traffickers to transport victims between cities and towns throughout the province,” said Mississauga Centre MPP Natalia Kusendova.

She will lend her own voice to a French version of the training material that is voiced in English by Timea Nagy, a human trafficking survivor.

“Being on the front lines of Ontario’s highways, our friends in the trucking industry play a crucial role in identifying the signs of human trafficking, and assisting law enforcement to bring perpetrators to justice,” Kusendova said.

The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) is already throwing its support behind the initiative, pledging to help put material in the hands of the province’s truck drivers.

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