‘We just want to go home’: Stranded truckers in US plead for Alberta blockade to end

EDMONTON – Sukhdeep Khara sits in the cab of his big rig staring out the windshield at the freezing weather, thinking about how to stretch his remaining four eggs into four more meals.

It’s all the food that Khara, a 49-year-old diabetic trucker from Niagara Falls, Ont., Has on hand, stuck in the United States as of Saturday after a blockade by truckers protesting vaccine mandates setup just north of him near the Coutts , Alta., Border crossing.

“It’s irritating – exhausted, running out of food,” he said during an interview with the Star from his truck, surrounded by dozens of stranded trucks. “All we want is to go back home, you know, make our deliveries… and put this behind us.”

Around 4 am Tuesday morning, his vehicle’s battery died, leaving him scrambling to find someone in the group of 20 or 30 rigs he’s able to help him start it again, lest he suffer in the sub-zero temperatures.

The mood among the stuck truckers is growing tense and impatient, said Khara, but ultimately, he hopes no fights with customs officers, or the protesters, are sparked.

“We are not looking for a confrontation,” he said. “But the government and the RCMP seem to be dragging their legs on this.”

For days, Mounties have been negotiating for a “peaceful resolution” with the blockade, made up of some 100 trucks that have caused a total standstill at the border crossing between Coutts and Sweet Grass, Montana.

Those talks have so far been unsuccessful, police said on Twitter late Monday, and the RCMP could soon ratchet up their enforcement efforts: “While we thought we had a path to resolve this, the protesters chose not to comply.”

The blockade participants object to a federal vaccine mandate that started on Jan. 15, requiring Canadian truckers to be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a 14-day quarantine when they enter from the United States; the US has put a similar policy in place.

Provincial politicians, such as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, have condemned the illegal blockade in recent days and such political condemnation continued on Tuesday. Federal Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra said the blockade could have “devastating consequences on the essential merchandise” drivers like Khara are hauling.

“I call on the protesters at the border to let the Canadian truckers through and let them go home,” the minister said.

It’s a sentiment the Khara feels viscerally as he sits and lets time trickle by, hoping he can get his load – nuts and bolts – across the border soon.

“We just want to go home,” he said. (The tiny grocery store in Sweet Grass has very little he, as a diabetic, can eat.)

But Khara sees problems down the road, too. He worries that the general public will paint all truckers with the same brush and that people like him will face backlash. There are also truckers stuck with him who have health issues; one has asthma, another has thyroid issues, not to mention, said Khara, there are food, fuel, and water shortages.

“I’m suffering here today and then everybody who does not drive a truck, they’ll be thinking that each and every trucker is a culprit,” he said.

Rigs wait out the blockade in Sweet Grass, Montana.

“Everywhere I read, ‘truckers protesting, truckers protesting, truckers against vaccines,’ you know, that’s a very wrong image that is going for us because we are not part of that group.”

Khara has to pay $ 4,000 per month on his truck and trailer. As an independent contractor, every day the protest goes on, he loses money, he said. Supply-chain issues have been persisting throughout the pandemic, he added, and those are simply getting compounded, making it difficult for him to pick up loads in the US on his way back to Canada.

“All that was hurting, so I do not have a cushion for me for a rainy day,” he said. “We have been suffering that for two years, and now they add to it by doing this.”

On Monday, concerns were raised by provincial politicians about the 50 to 100 trucks stranded in the US due to the blockade, but Khara said Tuesday that he believed that number had swelled, with more arriving over the last 24 hours.

As of late Tuesday morning, some trucks have begun to turn around and leave for other border crossings, he said.

“The highway’s all backed up again,” Khara said. “For a couple of miles there are trucks lined up on the interstate.

“I just want people to talk together and work out a problem. Nobody wants to fight each other. ”


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