US-Canada border protest forces freight rerouting
US trucking companies are beginning to place embargoes on freight headed to specific markets in western Canada, as a COVID-19-related trucking protest at one rural border crossing continues to delay freight moving from the US into the province of Alberta.
US less-than-truckload carrier Old Dominion Freight Line on Wednesday placed an embargo on freight headed to points served by its Calgary and Edmonton service centers. Other companies are likely to follow suit or reroute freight moving from the US to points in western Canada away from the border crossing in Montana to other crossings to the east or west.
The flashpoint is the international border crossing between Sweet Grass (also known as Sweetgrass), Montana, and Coutts, Alberta, the eighth-largest US-Canada border crossing point by southbound number of trucks. After five days, the vaccine mandate protest is now forcing US and Canadian truck shippers to rethink how they move freight to and from western Canada, adding to supply chain delays and raising transportation costs.
Some of that Canada-bound freight has likely been held in US truck terminals or warehouses, as shippers and carriers hope for a swift resolution of the blockade disrupting a lesser-known trade artery. Canadian shippers sending goods by truck to California and the US Southwest are rethinking their plans as well.
Rerouting freight on the fly through border crossings to the west in Washington state, or to the east will be expensive for shippers and carriers, adding hundreds of miles to routes and raising total per-mile costs.
US, Canadian trucks stranded
The blockade, which led to the closure of the Canadian Border Services Agency crossing to commercial vehicles in Coutts on Monday, has stranded other truck drivers on both sides of the border.
The protest is aimed at overturning Canada’s new requirement that drivers entering the country, including Canadian truckers returning from the US, be vaccinated against COVID-19. The US has imposed a similar mandate.
Until the Coutts blockade, the new vaccination requirements and protests against them had not affected cross-border commercial traffic. No delays have been reported at other border crossings.
A convoy of trucks protesting the vaccine mandate descended on Canada’s capital city of Ottawa Saturday. While the Ottawa protest appears to be winding down, the “Freedom Convoy” truckers at Coutts have been in a stand-off with Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The highway blockade is illegal. The RCMP said Tuesday they had taken “further action,” but the blockade remained.
“There are over 150 loads of Canadian beef stuck at the Coutts border,” the Canadian Meat Council said in a tweet Monday. “Our members are going to have to slow down production if this keeps up.”
Whether the protest ends peacefully or in arrests, its impact will be longer than its duration, as shippers hundreds and even thousands of miles away adjust and readjust their supply chains.
Coutts seems an unlikely place for a trucker protest in the dead of winter. The border crossing is at a high altitude, over 3,500 feet, and current temperatures are well below freezing.
But the Sweet Grass-Coutts crossing is the terminus of Interstate 15, which begins in San Diego and California’s Inland Empire, passing through Las Vegas and Salt Lake City on its way north.
Last year, 152,142 trucks crossed into Sweet Grass from Coutts, a 15.2 percent increase from 2020 and an 8.1 percent increase from 2019, according to US Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) data.
In comparison, 1,398,577 trucks crossed last year from Canada to Detroit, the largest US-Canada truck crossing point. That was a 3.3 percent increase from 2020 and a 9.3 percent decrease from 2019.
by William B. Cassidy at JOC