Ottawa mayor slams border checkpoints, says they won’t last the week

OTTAWA — Ottawa’s mayor says he doesn’t think police border checkpoints on the interprovincial crossings between Gatineau and Ottawa will last the week, slamming them as “impractical and unnecessary.”

Jim Watson says the new measures are causing the city grief and money, and are not sustainable. The new measures came into effect Monday as part of the province’s latest crackdown to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“I don’t think this system of stopping people at the border, which is impractical and unnecessary, is going to last the rest of this week,” Watson told CTV News at Six.

Watson cited the high frustration level for essential workers trying to cross the border. He said he has heard reports from Ottawa’s medical officer of health that workers at hospitals and long-term care homes were delayed up to an hour and a half on their trips to work.

Watson said he hopes to have a chance to speak with Premier Doug Ford within the next day or two and tell him to “walk this back.”

“It’s not working and it’s causing a lot of grief and costing a lot of money.”

Earlier Monday, Ottawa’s police chief suggested that enforcing the checkpoints is not sustainable for the local police service and there may come a time when those checkpoints are abandoned to serve the city’s daily policing needs.

Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s “Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts”, Police Chief Peter Sloly said his members are stretched almost to their limit.

“We are incredibly challenged and stressed right now in terms of providing full range of municipal police responses to the everyday issues in a city of a million people,” he said. “Any additional demand on us will further stretch and strain our people individually and our organization as a structure.”

The Ontario government announced Friday that police would be required to bar anyone without a valid reason for travelling from entering Ontario. The Ontario Provincial Police are tasked with monitoring the bulk of crossings from Quebec and Manitoba into Ontario, but the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) has been deployed to the five bridges over the Ottawa River between Gatineau, Que. and Ottawa, Ont.

Sloly said he and the police service have been working through the weekend to determine how best to manage the new measures announced by Premier Doug Ford, which Sloly described as coming in “fast and furious.”

“There was limited, if any, time for true and deep and meaningful consultation,” he said.

Watson has been opposed to checkpoints on the bridges. He was opposed to them when they were enforced by police in Quebec and he is opposed to them now. Speaking on CTV Morning Live on Monday morning, he called them a waste or resources.

“I’m not sure what the rationale is,” he said. “This was done by the Quebec police last year and there was no evidence that this stopped the spread of COVID-19.”

Sloly said the OPS is doing its best to meet all of its demands, but he may soon need to make tough decisions on what the service can and cannot do, and the final say is his alone.

“The chief of police in any jurisdiction in Canada takes orders from nobody,” he said. “While I have a legislative framework and an oversight and, obviously, an important relationship with municipal, provincial and federal governments, at the end of the day our democracy has established that elected officials cannot direct police chiefs in any jurisdictions, including the jurisdiction here in the nation’s capital.”

When asked whether he’d take resources away from the bridges to handle other issues, Sloly said “anything is possible.” He stressed that “nothing will go without” when it comes to priority services, but also said, realistically, the police cannot be everywhere at once.

“I can’t guarantee we’re going to be able to do everything for everybody at the level of expectation that they have,” he said. “It wouldn’t try to create that expectation. That’s too much of a burden for the men and women of the Ottawa Police Service.”

He called on all residents to follow public health guidelines and work to reduce transmission of COVID-19 through their own actions, as a collaborative effort with health officials and other partners.

“This is where we need leaders in the community—not just leaders in elected or public offices—we genuinely need all Ottawans and all Canadians to lean into achieving, individually and collectively, better health and better safety outcomes. That’s what we need now in this city and this province and this country now more than ever.”

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