Truck drivers face adulation and stigmatization during Covid-19

Just as Canada’s truck drivers were adjusting to the unfamiliar warmth of widespread public adoration, there are concerning reports that adulation is turning to stigmatization.

In Ontario, a longhaul truck driver’s wife, Bianka Muir, told us her husband was denied entry to his daughter’s elementary school when they arrived to pick up her belongings. A sign stated no one who’d traveled outside Canada in the past 14 days count enter the premises.

Surely, she countered, truck drivers – providing an essential service – are exempt. “No exceptions,” was the response.

“When I asked whether this would be the policy in September when the children return to school, she said ‘That is just one of the guidelines we are looking at,’” recalled Muir, who has reached out with her concerns to Ontario’s Education Minister.

(Photo: iStock)

“I’m sure you understand the problems with this scenario. Thousands of families across Ontario will be affected in September. Families will have to choose between our trucker staying away from home until the pandemic is over, our children not being able to attend school, or our truckers having to find Ontario-only work, thereby slowing the flow of goods across North America and decreasing our income.”

It’s difficult to imagine this scenario playing out, that cooler heads won’t prevail, but there’s also reason to fear otherwise. In May, a P.E.I.-based truck driver was fined $1,000 for going to a grocery store to buy food after being in the U.S. Self-isolation requirements were later relaxed for truck drivers in that province, though officials say it had nothing to do with that particular incident.

In Manitoba, there had been only 318 cases of Covid-19 as of June 26, with eight linked to truck drivers. Yet, it was the professional drivers who earned the wrath of the public. In several instances, truck drivers were refused service at restaurants, prompting the province’s chief provincial public health officer to issue a plea for decency.

Dr. Brent Roussin took to local media to admonish those who refused service to the province’s truck drivers.

“We shouldn’t be stigmatizing truck drivers. We should be thanking them. They’ve kept our supply chains open during these difficult times. They’re taking risks to keep our supply chains moving,” Roussin said during a press conference. “No one is asking to be ill.”

He went on to say truck drivers are professionals, taking extra precautions, and do not represent a disproportionate number of cases that would necessitate any special treatment or precautionary measurements. He also called for “kindness” to be shown towards truck drivers – something you’d never expect a public health official to have to address.

The good news is, recognition and gratitude from within the industry continues unabated. Free meals are still being offered through various initiatives right across the country, drivers continue to receive personal protective equipment from their employers and other industry organizations, and fleets continue to roll out special truck and trailer graphics that recognize truckers as essential service providers.

This effort needs to continue for two reasons. One, truckers are deserving of the recognition and are selflessly putting themselves at risk for the benefit of others, who are hunkered down at home but well fed and supplied thanks to their efforts.

Secondly, as we’ve seen already, the general public has a short memory. We can’t let them forget about the vital role truckers are playing, and will continue to play, to get us through this pandemic.

James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • You’re information, I’m afraid, is a bit outdated because we’re back to the same crap, just a different pile.
    The free meals you are talking about, while well intended and very much appreciated, are few and far between, and serve only a very small portion of the driving community. There are nowhere near enough good Samaritans to support the entire driver force.
    In the past two weeks this is what my drivers have run into …
    The On-Route at Woodstock suddenly, and without warning, would not let commercial drivers in without a mask, but a t-shirt around their face was acceptable. One day it’s a rule, one day it’s not.
    Many Tim Horton’s outlets do not allow drivers inside again, nor are they allowed to walk through the drive-thru. Lord knows our trucks don’t fit through them. In one particular case my driver has to wait for the local sheriff to come get his coffee, and he lets my driver ride in the back seat so he can get an order.
    Wendy’s does not serve truck drivers after 11:00 PM.
    The Husky at NOTL doesn’t serve food at night.
    The Flying J at Fort Erie only serves pizza as long as they have ingredients.
    A significant portion of the driving community works at night. There are no services out there to support them.
    No James, I afraid that truck drivers, deemed “essential” just a couple months ago, have been relegated back to the “expendable” category.

  • I have been looking forward to a holiday with my wife. Two whole weeks of fishing and rest. Time to let go of the stress with all that has taken place. I am a cross border trucker. This has has lead the people where we were planning to vacation ( not their fault) to cancel us. I was very honest with them and because of my job this happened. I am not the only one that this has happened to I am sure. It just plain sucks crossing the border now….

  • McDonalds was giving medium tea or coffee to essential people, Tim Hortons was giving truck drivers medium coffee on Wednesday only, (guess one is nothing the other 6 days), a car dealer offering free oil change but unfortunately truck drivers did not qualify except Wednesday.
    Met a truck driver from NY near my terminal. Neither the Wendy’s , Tim Horton’s or McDonals would allow him to walk up. I gave home 3 large tins of soup as he had run out on the road.

    I don’t expect a reward, but fair treatment would have been nice.

  • This is happening in Ontario Canada at banks and other locations. Some truck drivers have been told if they cross the border not go to the hospital in Windsor Ontario. Many truck drivers are not covered yet f get sick in the U S . We need better protection for truck drivers. Some trucking companies have started to pay for hotel rooms because if the truck drivers go home their wife was told to self isolation for 14 days by one apartment building owner in Brampton Ontario.

  • Early on, I was turned away from LCBO in home town because I crossed the border. Have yet to find those free meals you talk about..lol