Unvaccinated cross-border truck drivers face quarantines and screening Jan. 15

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Don Slater has no plans to get a Covid-19 vaccine, and as of Jan. 15 that means the lifelong truck driver will face new restrictions when crossing the border into Canada.

Under the approaching federal vaccine mandate, Canadian truck drivers who are not fully vaccinated will have to quarantine for 14 days when returning to the country, a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) spokesperson confirmed in a written response to questions from trucknews.com. These drivers will also be screened for Covid-19 on Day 1 and 8 of the quarantines.

It will be the first time since the onset of the pandemic that truck drivers have faced such requirements in their roles as essential workers. But truck drivers will continue to be exempted from pre-arrival testing requirements.

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American truck drivers who are not fully vaccinated will be returned to the U.S., the spokesperson added. The U.S., meanwhile, is widely expected to begin enforcing its version of the vaccine mandate for border-crossing truck drivers on Jan. 22.

“I’m just going to retire and sell my truck,” Slater said while on a layover in Texas, referring to concerns about the vaccine raised on conservative talk radio shows and Fox News. “It’ll be one less truck on the road.”

It’s precisely the situation that worries trucking associations and business groups, which have expressed concerns about a potential impact of an intense driver shortage on the supply chain. The Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates that as many as 12,000 to 16,000 cross-border truck drivers could be lost because of the vaccination status, based on current vaccination rates that vary by region.

About 120,000 Canadian truck drivers drive cross-border routes, while 40,000 U.S.-licensed truck drivers do the same, the CTA says.

Supply chain concerns

“Canadian businesses continue to support vaccinations as a critical tool in the fight against Covid. However, given current vaccination rates amongst truckers, the January 15th Canadian deadline for truckers to be vaccinated to cross the border poses serious risks for the resilience of our supply chain,” the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said in a statement signed by 34 business groups. “It will also seriously aggravate the existing truck driver shortage and lead to price increases that will hurt the Canadian economy and consumers.”

Reuters, citing an unnamed government source, reported this weekend that the government estimates 5% of truck drivers will be affected.

“The Canadian trucking industry is preparing or bracing for these mandates one way or another,” CTA president Stephen Laskowski said in a press release last week. Canada’s largest trucking association will be meeting with federal officials this week to discuss the mandate, he added in an email response to trucknews.com.

The alliance has argued that factors such as existing vaccination rates and the isolated nature of a driver’s job have helped to keep vaccination rates low within the industry. Plans for the U.S. version of the mandate – announced before the Canadian rules – have faced opposition from groups including 14 U.S. senators.

Reassigning drivers

The fear right now is that truckers who work for federally regulated companies will leave for domestic work, says Jean-Claude Fortin, chairman of the Canadian Trucking Alliance and founder of the JE Fortin fleet in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que. But that would only be a temporary change, as “it would only be a matter of time before the provinces also adopt mandatory vaccination regulations for truckers,” he told Transport Routier.

All 75 truck drivers who work for his fleet are double-vaccinated. “Without any pressure from us,” he added.

But Real Gagnon, CEO of Groupe Trans-West, estimates 6-8% of his drivers have found work elsewhere because of the vaccine mandate, and more may follow.

That workforce is not easily replaced, he said. “The competition isn’t just from transportation. Everyone is looking for labor. Someone who is not very resourceful is going to find work close to home. We’re facing quite a challenge as we head into 2022.”

Although a few of the departing truckers have already contacted his human resources department to rejoin the fleet, indicating that they’re willing be vaccinated after all. Any overall drop in cross-border truck drivers will also squeeze capacity and push rates higher, he said. “That will be good not only for us, but for the industry as a whole.”

Marc-Andre Hubert, general manager of CH Express, isn’t a fan of the mandate. “It’s another restriction that’s been added,” he said, noting one of 14 drivers who travel to the U.S. will need to be reassigned to domestic work. The fleet’s brokerage arm will also face new struggles to find qualified drivers.

“A number of them are going to be reassigned to regional transport. That’s going to unbalance a market that’s already short on drivers.”

Border delays

Even vaccinated truck drivers may face some challenges next weekend.

“As the new measures are rolled out on Jan. 15th, truck drivers may experience delays at port of entry due to the modified public health measures,” the CBSA spokesperson said. “The CBSA will monitor volumes and wait times and be prepared to allocate resources and adjust staffing levels to minimize processing times and potential delays at our ports of entry.

“The CBSA will not compromise the health and safety of Canadians for the sake of border wait times.”

Truck drivers, like other border-crossing travelers, are expected to submit vaccine status into the ArriveCAN app or web portal up to 72 hours before arriving in Canada. This will generate a receipt that drivers may be required to show along with proof of vaccination.

Travelers should print or take a screenshot of the ArriveCAN receipt and carry it with them when they travel, the CBSA spokesperson said. Reusable receipts can also be created.

Late last year, the federal government also announced plans to apply a vaccine mandate to all federally regulated truck drivers, extending the rules to those that cross provincial borders. The trucking industry has to date been exempted from vaccine mandates that apply to other federally regulated transportation workers.

No details have been released about how that mandate would be enforced.

“They’re shoving this down our throats,” Slater said, adding that he has no interest in opting for domestic routes closer to his Ontario home after 46 years in the industry. “I worked for a long time to get these runs like this. To go back and screw around that Toronto traffic and go down to Montreal?”

He’d rather turn in the keys for good.

  • This story has been updated with comments from fleet executives.
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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, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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  • This needs to happen along with plan to provide a spot for all sick truck drivers in ont. No one in the Trucking industry is willing to foot the cost of sick truck drivers including the ont gov.

      • The C b C did a story on Friday about truck drivers and the border and action taken by the industry or the ont gov to solve the problems of drivers like myself that use homeless shelter as a base because they disabled. If I was the only one I do not think the C B C would be doing this story.

  • I’m done on the 14th and probably won’t return to the industry. I’ve had covid and been exposed many times since with no re infection. I obviously have immunity and want to wait for the vaccines for covid to be proven out more. I already know quite a few people with vaccine injuries and death. Not worth it and I’d rather be home with my kids. I am pro vaccines but this one is scary when they have to force it so badly and ignore science and only push convenient science. If the vaccines worked so good then why are we still in this crap?

  • The injection is a injection against freedom, are you prepared to give up freedom for a short time and lose all your freedom for the long haul

  • If I can claim CERB for the 2 weeks quarantine then this could be a good thing work 2 days, 14 days off, all paid ! A constant cycle ,of course it will not happen, or will it ?

  • Finally we will be able to find out how much trucking is essentials the government really don’t see what will happen if trucks are shut down at the border and if either a driver will have to isolate after return and for 14 days mind well say quit, the truck will not move and lost of revenue to the transporter the driver and the customers.
    Have an app downloaded 72 hours prior to show at the border ??? how realistic is this?? e log and travel plus wait at the border E Log still clicking most probably making the driver to shut the truck down due to run out of hours.
    Let this thing happen and wait and see how long the politicians could face the public.

    • E logs and these new rules will show how much better truck drivers should be treated. It will be very interesting.

  • Can’t believe drivers are listening to Fox News and other conservative sites to make their decisions not to get vaccinated. Those talking heads are vaccinated! People are not dying from vaccinations, they are dying from Covid

  • I agree with you completely. I m not an anti vaxxer. I got all my shots growing up. But this i agree should not be forced. I don’t trust it enough yet.

    • Yep. I am pro-vaccine but this one isn’t right. It should not need to be forced it was so great and COVID was so bad. My kids barely noticed they had COVID. Sniffles at best. I got like a mild pneumonia and was fine. My wife didn’t even ever have any symptoms and we had the original strain in 2020. We have been exposed recently and obviously have immunity 14 months later.

  • I’m done man 15 years f— the government f— this if we where all smart we would shut down and the truckers would be the new government we have the most power and they are trying to make us not know but anyone who knows the truth know we feed the world!

  • I’m a vaccinated canadian trucker. Over the past 2 years I’ve worked harder than I ever have before. I deliver beef to the states and return with pork/chicken or vegetables.
    I find it amazing that when covid first started, us drivers were expected to continue doing our jobs while everyone else sat at home. None of us knew exactly how bad it was or was going to be, but we still did our jobs. I actually made less money because I spent more time on the road causing me to buy more supplies and food on the road . I was not given a raise nor did I ask for one. I did my job because people needed food. I put my health and my families health at risk, all so everyone could eat. The government did not care if I was vaccinated or if i was even sick. They just needed me to do my job. So it really bothers me that after 2 years of crossing a closed border, keeping both countries fed, we are now threatened with the loss of our jobs. You didn’t care about our health before, why? Because we were expendable. If we got sick and died, ah well it’s just one maybe two truckers.
    With these new rules, don’t be surprised when within a couple of weeks you can’t get what you want from your grocery store and if you do, expect to pay a lot more for it.
    I will still continue to do my job and keep you all fed, but I am worried for the future. Experienced drivers and quiting leaving the industry to inexperienced drivers who are beside you and your family on the hwy. Trust me, this isn’t what you want .

    • You should be angry at the folks who are ignorant to the facts. Yeah you guys are underpaid. Just seems like a selfish hill to die on because folks are afraid of the needle

    • Thank you, this is the best explanation of the drivers situation that I have seen yet. Now I understand. How can hard working truckers be essential one day and expendable the next? We will all surely pay for this tyranny in the end.

  • 90 percent of cross-border truck drivers are already vacinated, there is very little to gain by going through with this mandate it won’t really bring the numbers up much. If I wanted to destroy our society and make people’s lives mizerible I would do what they are doing.

  • This government and its Health officials have shown to be incompetent, without regard for citizens, and an embarrassment for Canada. I hope everyone remembers at election time.

  • Why are these truckers so ignorant to the facts? Just cuz they don’t get it? Are they afraid of needles? I thought they were supposed to be tough folks. Guess they’re softer than a soft serve ice cream in an Arizona Highway