A mental health advocate in B.C. has started a GoFundMe campaign to support “real, local truckers,” amid the ongoing truckers convoy for “freedom.”
Kulpreet Singh, founder of the South Asian Mental Health Alliance (SAMHA), started the campaign to support the truckers who have continued to work to deliver essential services to Canadians while the convoy continues to protest vaccine mandates.
“This convoy is kind of purporting to represent all truckers, but a lot of South Asian truckers have literally just been working away during the pandemic, trying to keep their family safe and community safe,” he said in an interview with 5XPress.
Misrepresenting 90% of truckers who are vaccinated, the alleged “freedom” convoy—that mainly includes white supremacists from the far-right—has managed to disrupt those that are continuing to work their jobs.
This includes many South Asian truckers who were stranded at the US-Canada border between Alberta and Montana due to a convoy blockade, some of whom were left with no food or medication as they navigated long detours to get home. Meanwhile, white supremacists in Ottawa harassed homeless shelters for food and assaulted their staff, claiming that mask mandates rendered them hungry and homeless.
“Some legitimate concerns have been overshadowed”
The convoy is serving as a a distraction from the real issues that truckers are facing, including labour shortages, exploitation, wage theft, and lack of infrastructure, to name a few.
In fact, truckers in the Fraser Valley held a rally in January, to highlight unsafe road conditions they are facing on B.C. highways.
“They had started a rally from Dashmesh Darbar Gurdwara sometime back around improvements to the roads, the highways going to the Fraser Valley, [but] the movement that they were trying to get attention to was just totally overshadowed by this one,” said Singh.
Meanwhile, the flashier convoy that initially stoked fear about supply-chain issues, upstaging any labour issues, was adorned with racist and nazi symbols. Many protesters currently remain in Ottawa while the convoy continues to receive considerable donations, with a GoFundMe campaign for the convoy nearing at $10.1 million at the time of publishing—in stark contrast to Singh’s GoFundMe, which has received close to $4,000. This total does not include other independent GoFundMe campaigns, which have also amassed thousands of dollars in the name of this “freedom movement”.
In addition to the hate speech and racist imagery at the protests, the lack of consultation with truckers who are still working prompted Singh to start the fundraiser campaign.
He said that despite organizers dismissing the racist elements of the protests as “fringe,” many are still dismissing the involvement of white supremacists and fascists.
“They are also not being actively shut down. Silence implies that you're consenting to those people being part of the movement, even if afterwards, you say, ‘No, this is not what we represent.’”
Almost 1 in 5 truckers in Canada is South Asian, and South Asian immigrants in Vancouver alone account for 55.9% of drivers. With 82.1% of South Asians willing to get vaccinated, rarely any are visible in the convoy.
“I don’t know of any South Asian truckers who are interested in being part of this protest movement,” said Manan Gupta, the editor of Road Today, a magazine covering issues faced by South Asian truckers, in an interview with New Canadian Media.
Culturally-specific peer support for truckers
SAMHA is a member of the South Asian COVID Task Force, which emerged in response to a one-size-fits-all public policy approach by the government that did not account for culturally appropriate education and curb of spread in 2020.
Now, members of SAMHA and the Task Force are trying to dispel the narratives that have helped the convoy become so popular.
“We have support from individuals within the Task Force as well as other local nonprofit societies to provide mental health support for marginalized individuals, including truck drivers,” said Singh.
Moving forward Family Services has offered their professional counsellors to facilitate a peer support group for local truck drivers in Punjabi, where they can share their stresses and concerns and—a kind of support that has been lacking from this industry.
While a fraction of truckers involved in the far-right convoy continue to claim to be a marginalized minority at the expense of truckers with substantial issues, according to Singh the only thing community members can do is to continue to raise awareness for the experiences of those who are actually exploited.
“If we want to come out of this pandemic with a healthier society, mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, then we should stop putting these issues under the rug and openly discuss them and try to find out where we need better enforcement, or where we need better support and actually work towards those solutions.”
So, while one convoy is able to drum up a lot more noise, maybe we should instead be asking whose voices and concerns they're drowning out in the process, and lend them our ears instead.
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