Canada to require vaccines for cross-border truck drivers, CTA warns of ‘perfect storm’

Canada will require truck drivers to be vaccinated against Covid-19 before crossing the border as of Jan. 15, building on a similar announcement already made by U.S. regulators.

The news comes even as Canada prepares to ease several other travel restrictions. As of Nov. 30, for example, fully vaccinated individuals who leave and re-enter the country within 72 hours will no longer need to present a pre-entry molecular test.

Truck drivers, as essential workers, have to date been exempted from vaccine requirements before entering the country. They also haven’t been included in previous federal vaccine mandates that apply to the air, rail and marine sectors.

Canada-U.S. border
(Photo: iStock)

The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) quickly responded that it will be pressing Canadian and U.S. authorities for more time to prepare for the border-related mandate, noting that the mid-January deadline gives little time for longhaul drivers to arrange for both shots, given the time they spend away from home.

‘Perfect storm brewing’

“We are extremely concerned there is a perfect storm brewing,” said CTA president Stephen Laskowski. “In light of worldwide supply chain disruptions and delays, it’s unclear how the supply chain and the trucking industry, in particular, can withstand further turmoil and maintain the service levels required to deliver critical products Canadians and Americans need.

“As we have seen throughout the world over the last year, supply chains are very fragile ecosystems and sometimes people’s overreactions to the threat of product shortages can cause even further problems,” he said. “We’ve seen firsthand how difficult it is to get certain products to market when supply chains are interrupted. And if these vaccination mandates are not handled with caution and great consideration, we could see those delays and shortages taken to levels that will create more anxiety for manufacturers and consumers alike.”

The Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates about 38,000 truck drivers could opt out of cross-border work in the face of a vaccine mandate. About 120,000 Canadian truck drivers run cross-border routes, while 40,000 U.S.-licensed truck drivers do the same.

While many Canadian trucking companies report 85-90% of their truck drivers are vaccinated, many carriers still have lower vaccination rates, depending on where they’re based, the alliance says.

‘45,000 are off limits’

“If you take the general population and assume the truck drivers are vaccinated at the same rate, it means 20% of drivers are not vaccinated. From 300,000 [total] drivers, 45,000 are off limits,” Private Motor Truck Council of Canada president Mike Millian said during a Truckload Carriers Association panel discussion on Thursday.

South of the border, business groups such as the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) also continue legal challenges against U.S. plans to require businesses with more than 100 employees to adopt vaccine mandates. Although, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh has said solo drivers would be exempt from that mandate.

If U.S. truck drivers are truly exempt from the rule applying to larger businesses, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will likely reverse vaccine mandates for border-crossing truckers, said TCA vice-president of government affairs David Heller, during a Thursday presentation in Brampton, Ont.

But U.S. legislators are unlikely to give Canadian truckers easier access to the U.S. than Americans enjoy, he said.

Low vaccination rates

Heller quoted surveys that suggest just half of U.S. drivers are vaccinated, with 62% saying they will not be vaccinated under any circumstances. By some estimates, applying a vaccine mandate to fleets with more than 100 employers could wipe out 37% of the driving workforce, he said.

“If this were to take effect and 37% of the industry leaves, imagine the lines at the gas stations and the local stores,” Heller said. “Even if we lose 1-2% of drivers in this market because of the vaccine mandate, there are tremendous problems.”

Under Canada’s evolving rules, border-crossing travelers to require vaccines as of the Jan. 15 deadline also include previously exempted international students, professional athletes, and those with work permits including temporary foreign workers outside the agriculture and food processing sectors.

Some unvaccinated people will still be allowed to cross the border, however, including agricultural and food processing workers, marine crew members, those entering on compassionate grounds, new permanent residents, resettling refugees, and some children under the age of 18. They’ll continue to be subject to testing, quarantine and other entry requirements.

“From the start of the pandemic our goal has been to protect the health and safety of Canadians and prevent the spread of Covid-19 through our borders. Our commitment to border security has helped keep Canadians safe, and as the situation continues to evolve and we open our borders to non-essential travel, we will continue to ensure that travellers meet all of the requirements for entry to Canada,” Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said in a release.

“As we restart many aspects of our economy, including travel, vaccination will continue to play an important role in keeping each other and our transportation systems safe and secure,” said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.

“Vaccination is one of our best tools to finish the fight against Covid-19,” he added in a related press briefing.

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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  • I am not sure why people think this is a bad thing!! Less drivers will lead to increased freight rates. Shippers are still asking for discounts, so anything to limit the truck numbers is a good outcome for our cross border industry.

  • The C T A would be in a much better position if a standard of of medical care was set for all sick or injured truck drivers. I a hope this will mean the C T A will come back with a plan to look after sick and disabled truck drivers. Just yesterday I was seen homeless on the street a kind individual got me a Uber and a safe spot for the night. I am having a very tough time being a homeless disabled truck driver and nobody in the gov is offering a solution or the trucking industry.

    • 🙁 It’s so awful to hear of your situation. I am so glad that kind person helped you and I hope that many more do as well. It’s the government and/or the trucking industry that Should be helping.

  • Whats the big deal ? You will need to be vaccinated to leave Canada so coming back in will be no problem. I’m sure all these guys that claim they will no longer cross the border will change their minds rather quickly once they realize there is not enough local work to go around if loads are no longer crossing the border. Lots of talk but no pay cheque can change minds in a hurry.

    • That’s probably exactly what the powers-that-be are hoping! It’s a “free country” don’t-ya-know ……. so they have to think of Somehow to force people to do what they want.
      🙁

  • Does this mean both shots by Jan. 15th?
    Also isn’t there a restriction by the USA
    that you have to have final shot 14 days before you can enter?

  • no need to rush at this time if you are going across the boarder in the western part of Canada like true the Vancouver area , well the roads will be under construction for a long time just to fix that disaster that just happen so I don’t see much cargo that will be delivered either from the west to the east and the only highway from vancouver the number one will be under heavy repair for a long time.
    So going to the state and getting nailed by the canadian covid rules that change often you mind is well stay on the canada side from New Foundland to Alberta and perhaps to west coast on a determined travel time expectation.

  • This is going to hit the supply chain, if Trudeau is implemented this there is alot of drivers going to leave the industry,my wife and myself included

  • it will be no problem,there are shortage of work means no loads.My average time to have work assignment is extended to day of waiting without pay.
    The rail, the new coorrdinace of shipments and orders are gradually decreased volume of needs of delivery.There are also logistic issues of freight coming from China which won’t be solve in the future .CTA president Stephen Laskowski for very long time is lobbying theme of driver shortage .It’s a very misleading information .His propaganda is related to keep lower wages for truckers as all of us know seating drivers are not paid then competition to get load raise up and shipments rates are down .I.

    • I agree with these truckers no one stops and really gives a dam about them Hell they don’t even get a pat on back And if they all could afford stop driving maybe get lucky and hopefully the right people would listen and maybe give a dam good luck all

  • I’m a 74 year old Canadian (Ontario) who’s lived in Canada all my life. I am appalled that countless truck drivers, who are SO important to EVERYONE are facing a similar scenario – like so many others in various fields, who are basically being coerced. “Do what we want, or you won’t have a job.” (The fact that both vaccinated folks and unvaccinated folks can get the virus, and can pass it along to others makes this even more ludicrous!)

    What stupidity for those in “authority” who would make a decision like this. Do they have Any idea what havoc would be created by a move like this?

    I’m so angry I can hardly think!! Thank you for helping the public know what is happening. (And please feel free to make my words public for the truckers who serve us all, who are invaluable and who are so very undervalued!)

    Sincerely, Kathryn Lloyd.

    • Couldnt have said it better! Ill be hanging up my keys as a cross border driver if mandate takes effect. alot like me are doing this and have a plan b in motion so theres no interuption in pay

  • It’s time to park them all enough is enough. They are trying to kill the little guy just like they did in the lock downs. It crazy everyone is just complying with everything and bending over and taking it.

  • I’ve been a truck driver for over thirty five years now, long haul, regional and local. I’ve pretty much done it all except for the ice roads. I’m FAST approved, got the TWIC card and everything else in between but this is the final straw. The money does not justify the amount of garbage we put up with, and its always the same story we don’t have any money to pay you more but here’s some more responsibility. The companies can pay more but won’t until WE start standing up for ourselves and each other. I’ve told a few employers “ You need me, I don’t need you” and it leaves them speechless. This crap about showing Customs are vaccine status is crossing the line as far as I’m concerned. Personally I think the powers that be need to be reminded who really runs the country by shutting down the borders and bridges.

    • I agree with you 100 %. I’ve already told the company I work for they can pound salt if the mandate goes through. I love that job but I love my freedom more.