Truck drivers paying price for border vaccine confusion

Don Slater is unvaccinated, and he’s preparing to haul a load to Texas despite a vaccine mandate that Canada imposed on cross-border truck drivers this weekend.

Before a related U.S. vaccine mandate comes, he can still travel south. The American rules are not expected to be enforced until Jan. 22. But when the owner-operator returns, a new quarantine and testing requirement will be waiting for him.

The truck driver from Simcoe, Ontario, is among Canadian truck drivers who were caught in the crossfire on Wednesday and Thursday, when vaccine-related requirements seemed to be on, then off, then on again.

unvaccinated truck driver Don Slater
Don Slater of Simcoe, Ont., is one of the unvaccinated truck drivers facing new restrictions at the border. (Photo: Supplied)

Government officials reinforced the quarantine and testing demands in a meeting with industry groups on Wednesday afternoon. Hours later, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) notified media that Canadian drivers would not face quarantine requirements. By Thursday afternoon government officials reinforced the original mandate, saying that the reversal was in error.

Dispatch had called Slater with a load on Wednesday: An eight-drop run going to Texas, with stops in Kansas and Louisiana along the way. It would pay the owner-operator a few thousand dollars, and he was quick to accept it.

When the fleet called Thursday to say they assumed he would turn down the job, given the return of the cross-border requirements, Slater told them he was committed to the load.

“I’m taking the load. I’m going,” Slater said. “I can get into the U.S. up ‘til the 22nd or midnight on the 21st. If I’ve got to quarantine for 14 days, I don’t give a shit. I’m taking that load.”

But he wonders: “Why did it take 24 hours to correct a mistake?”

Looking for exemption

Mike Millian, president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, is raising the same question – and calling on government officials to exempt Canadian truck drivers who are already in the U.S. from quarantine requirements when they return home.

Based on news that suggested such requirements would be eased, many carriers dispatched some unvaccinated drivers into the U.S. on Wednesday, he said.

“All of this flip flopping in messaging has created mass confusion in industry, and the lack of outreach to industry made this worse,” Millian said in a message to federal officials, stressing that the error was not corrected for 16 hours.

“While we understand errors can be made, the industry and drivers should not be left swinging in the wind for as long as they were, when a simple communication – similar to the one that caused the confusion in the first place – could have been issued and cleared confusion up in a timely manner. The industry and these drivers deserve better.”

Penalties and quarantine procedures

“Although border officials maintain the ability to issue fines/penalties, the government recognizes this is a transition period and does not expect fines/penalties to be issued initially to unvaccinated drivers,” the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) said in a Friday bulletin, noting it has been seeking relief for those who couldn’t return to Canada before Jan. 15.

“Federal officials have indicated that enforcement of health measures, including mandatory quarantine, will be enforced. However, flexibility could be used on other enforcement policies for these drivers.”

It added that no Canadian driver will be denied entry into the country, but unvaccinated truck drivers among them will be required to quarantine for 14 days. Quarantine plans will need to be submitted using the ArriveCAN app, but if this is not possible the truck drivers should be ready to produce a verbal plan when crossing back across the border.

Unvaccinated truck drivers with a shipment will be required to complete their move and then head directly to the address on their quarantine plan. No other pickups or drop-offs will be permitted, although empty trailers can be repositioned along the route. The time spent in the truck while completing this commercial move will count toward the 14-day quarantine.

“Officials have clarified that a suitable place of quarantine does not include the cab of a truck and must be done at a verifiable address,” CTA added. “Follow-up actions will be taken by enforcement officials to ensure that the driver is quarantining as required.”

Out of a job

For Chad, it all meant a race back from Ohio. The Ontario-based truck driver — who withheld his last name because he’s worried his vaccination views will affect a family business — had taken a load Wednesday based on news that he wouldn’t be affected by the mandate. He learned about the returning rules when his wife texted him on Thursday.

Since an original customer didn’t want to take his load until Saturday, he had to hand it off to another driver, find an empty trailer, and source a backhaul that would get him back before the deadline.

The lineup at the Ambassador Bridge extended across the border and back onto the highway on Friday night, even though both lanes and all Customs booths were open. He crossed at 10 pm.

“It was a little bit of a nailbiter getting back,” he said. “I’d never seen the border that busy.”

At this point, though, he’s now out of driving job.

“I’ve never lost a job in my life. I’ve been kind of the guy the company want you. And to be forced out of work was an eerie feeling.”

  • The original version of this article was updated to include additional content.

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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  • All trucking companies and the ont gov need to work together on the this . The O T A know for 6 months that a solution is needed

    • I understand a plan is going in place for a hotel to isolate truck drivers. The drivers should have the information. I have heard the gov and trucking companies are afraid if this was done more sick truck drivers than rooms in the hotel. News outlets in Europe are watching very closely.

  • What a great thing!!! i am very happy not to have to drive 2 weeks and get 2 days off. Thank you canada my pay just went up and my hours just went down.

  • I crossed today at Sarina, 2 mile backup, got there at 1030am and finally crossed at 115pm. They talk of driver shortage, it’s driver detention that’s the issue. I have waited 2,4,5,8hrs to be loaded at shippers, then drive to a border that takes 2 to 3hrs to cross, spending extra nights in the truck with late loads because of shippers and border crossing. This industry needs to get it together, we work hard and spend time away from our families to keep things going and this is what we have to put up with. Shame on Government for poor planning, get it together or lose drivers because you’re making us mad…

    • I hope your grocery stores in your immediate area run dry forcing you to spend lots of money in gas to get your goods from other communities

  • So, has any other segment of society ever been subject to enforcement and threatened with fines and penalties? The short answer is “No” … even people inbound from other countries earlier on in the pandemic that were supposed to quarantine in hotels around the airport were never subjected to “enforcement”.
    It’s all okay though. In a couple weeks the grocery chains will be out of a lot of items, especially meat and fresh produce, and the price of goods that are in stock will sky rocket. Then watch the governments squirm.

    • other segments of the vendor community aren’t hauling into or out of the US, a country that has become rampant with ant vaxxers and skyrocketing numbers, though yeah, gon look up Hellas Restaurant. they got fined plenty.

  • For your own good. Get the dam vaccine.
    It’s your life your messing with.
    I have my 3 shots and feeling good and safe.
    Also, I’m very grateful for the different government that looked after us to get those vaccines.

    • I have had no shots and I feel good and safe and no chance of an adverse reaction o the experimental medicines within the rest of my long life

  • What a bunch of bull shit. This tranny government does not give a shit about any Canadian or are economy. They have there head stuck in the sand. The vaccine is toxic and they know it. This is not about are health and never has been. This is about ruining everyones lives, and forcing us in to communisim.
    Are entire government needs to be fired. Get rid of these idiots before they destroy everything. We are running out of time.

    • I agree , seeing the comments from the vax sheep on here is disheartening. They watch their freedom go down the toilet and applaud . Bloody sickening.

    • I agree fully! You are spot on with your comment. The truth will come out soon or else we are definitely headed to full on communism.

    • The vax makes you think a person renting a room is the same as 2 countries joining, boarder ? No it is the border.

  • If he’s smart he’ll stay in the USA and never come back to this hell hole. When are people going to wake up to the big picture here?

  • They should of mandated the vaccine at the start of all this for everybody and this crap would be all over with I have had all 3 of my shots and I feel fine are there that many big burley truck drivers out there that are scared of needles and yes I am a retired Truck driver

  • It is time for all of us truckers to shutdown & force an end to these mandates. In the US it is my understanding that solo drivers do not have to abide by the mandate. I believe the US mandate is only applicable to companies that have more than 100 employees. At least that is what I was told by a US border officer. We have kept the supply chain going for the past 2 years without vaccinated truckers. It does not make sense to implement a mandate now! All truckers should shutdown on January 22nd & stay off until the government is brought to it’s knees. Maybe then they will understand the value truckers play in supplying our economy with the essential goods that the public needs. There is a driver shortage & the government just made it a lot worse. We should block the borders to send a message to our incompetent prime minister!!

    • I do approve of what you are saying something has to be done here these politicians are in competent and now would be the time to kick this government to the curb.
      When the population start starving we will see some real actions.

  • This government has screwed so many drivers ad well as businesses by forcing driver ,by the way get this country supplied with goods. The drivers for the most part ate isolated in their trucks so why we have to isolate for 14 days and could recieve a fine of $5000.00. Money grab from this liberal government.

    • The problem is too many trucking companies did not provide proper medical care or a safe place to isolate
      The fed gov had no choice as many truck drivers ended up sick and homeless .

  • Go get your needle, problem solved. Don’t be an COVIDIOT! Vaccine has been out for a year, there is no need for this and to cry wolf!!

  • I don’t understand the reasons for anyone with no medical reason not to get this vacine while almost all canadians have been vacinated for so many diseases in there lifetime but if they don’t mind the consequences that is there choice. Quebecs vacine tax idea is not helping as it just stirs up us against them attitudes when Canadians have so many reasons that we should be a united country against all the outside forces from Chinese interference to Russian cyber attacks and so much more. And don’t get me started on Justin Trudeau’s anti canadian oil harrasment polidies when we import so much oil from despotic country’s. Stop oil and you stop trucks and grocery stores are empty in 2 weeks.

  • Trudeau says the public polls show the public wants this just wait when they have no food on their table I’m an unvaccinated driver and will never get this poison jab it’s my choice and no government will ever tell me to put a experimental vaccine into my body and that is the issue it is my health I’ve had Covid I now have the natural antibodies and now do not need a man made piece of garbage going into my body and guess what 99.997 per cent of people who get covid recover wake up people you have been lied to do your research stop believing this mainstream media garbage who is nothing but a government propaganda machine remember TRUCKERS ARE FIGHTING FOR YOUR FREEDOM AND I AM BEHIND EVERYONE WHO TELLS TRUDEAU WHERE TO HO AND HOW TO GET THERE HE IS WAKING A SLEEPING GIANT AND IS ABOUT TO FIND OUT WHO IS IN CHARGE IF ALL TRUCKERS IN YHIS COUNTRY SHUT DOWN FOR A MONTH THIS SHITTY GOVERNMENT OF OURS WOULD COMPLETELY BEND AND GET RID OF THIS IDIOT.

  • So let me get this straight! We’re violating every human right declaration to appease a part time drama schoolteacher that basically works for the billionaires at the WEF and graduated from their young leaders program along with Angela Merkel, Macron , Jacinda Ardus, Gavin Newsome, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos etc.etc.etc.
    The vaccines are failing, their is no science behind the mandates and the deputy prime minister is a trustee for the WEF.! Do you actually believe they have the Canadian people and The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as their main concern or are they serving the corporate elite?