2019 was yet another busy year for news in the national capital.
On the heels of two destructive tornadoes in the fall of 2018, the city found itself coping with the tragedy and trauma of a fatal bus crash early in the year and, just months later, devastating flooding for the second time in two years.
It was also a wild ride at Ottawa city hall with the delayed launch of — and subsequent service issues with — the light-rail Confederation Line, the heated debate over the future of the Château Laurier and allegations of inappropriate behaviour by a longtime city councillor.
In no particular order, here’s a look back at some of the biggest stories in Ottawa over the last 12 months.
Westboro bus crash
The city faced a fresh tragedy in January when an OC Transpo double-decker bus filled with riders smashed into the overhang of a shelter at Westboro transit station during the frigid afternoon rush hour.
Three people were killed in the collision: 65-year-old Anja Van Beek, 57-year-old Judy Booth and 56-year-old Bruce Thomlinson, all federal public servants. More than 20 other people were seriously injured and sent to hospital.
After a months-long investigation, Ottawa police charged the driver of the bus, Aissatou Diallo, with three counts of dangerous driving causing death and 35 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
Her trial is scheduled for eight weeks beginning in March 2021.
Second wave of major flooding in two years
As if the 2017 flooding and the 2018 tornadoes weren’t enough, Ottawa residents were forced to reckon with the city’s second major flooding event in two years.
Communities in West Carleton, Britannia and Cumberland — and others further in the Ottawa Valley — were hit hardest by the bloated Ottawa River this spring.
The city declared a state of emergency on April 25 and more than 150 homes in Ottawa evacuated during the floods. Thousands of volunteers registered to fill sandbags — about 1.5 million of which were stacked to protect properties in the affected areas. The armed forces also stepped in to help.
In the aftermath, the Ontario government appointed a special task force and a special adviser on flooding to explore how the province would improve communities’ resilience to flooding.
The special adviser’s report, publicly released in late November, stated the record-setting flooding in Ottawa this year was caused by a combination of weather and climate factors, and not human error.
The LRT saga
After more than 15 months of delays, Ottawa’s long-awaited light-rail transit (LRT) system launched mid-September. It was a major day for the city and everything went relatively smoothly for three weeks. But things went awry after major overhaul to bus service in early October.
Since then, passengers have been struggling with unreliable service due to stopped trains, door faults and issues with two computers systems. The problems on the Confederation Line have also had a cascading effect on the city’s already strained bus system, frustrating riders across the public transit network.
The city says it’s putting the pressure on the consortium contracted to build and maintain the line to address and solve the ongoing issues.
Earlier this year, the city also approved the two contracts for Stage 2 LRT and kick-started construction activities. East-West Connectors won the bid for the Confederation Line extension while SNC-Lavalin won the contract to extend the Trillium Line further south, even though it came out that the engineering giant didn’t meet the required technical score during the procurement process.
The LeBreton Flats re-do
In the fall of 2018, the plan to redevelop LeBreton Flats imploded. 2019 brought the final nail in the coffin and later, the new plan’s rise from the ashes.
In late February, the National Capital Commission (NCC) was advised that the quarreling partners of the RendezVous LeBreton Group couldn’t resolve their legal dispute in mediation. The NCC, then under new leadership, subsequently decided to cut the cord and turn a new leaf in early March.
The NCC went back to the drawing board and promised to take a “phased” approach during its next stab at redeveloping the long-empty parcel of land west of Parliament Hill. It held consultations with the public over the summer and came back to the Crown corporation’s board of directors with a draft master concept plan in November — which saves space for, but doesn’t guarantee, a new NHL arena for the Ottawa Senators.
Board members, Mayor Jim Watson and local MP and infrastructure minister Catherine McKenna all say they believe the new plan is more realistic and “achievable.” After more consultation, the NCC is now “refining” the new concept plan and will submit it to the board for approval in January.
The first call for development proposals — for the ” Library District” located at the northeast corner of Booth and Albert streets — will also launch in January.
This year also brought the long-awaited criminal trial of Const. Daniel Montsion, the Ottawa police officer charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon in the death of Abdirahman Abdi in July 2016. Court heard that Abdi suffered a heart attack outside his Ottawa home as two police officers arrested him following a chase on foot. Abdi died in hospital the next day.
Montsion pleaded not guilty to his charges when the judge-only trial began in February. He was represented by defence lawyers Michael Edelson and Solomon Friedman throughout the eventful and complex trial.
It took nearly nine months for the judge to hear all the evidence in the case.
Crown lawyers and Montsion’s defence team are scheduled to present their final arguments in court in late April 2020.
Château Laurier debacle
The owners of the Château Laurier, Larco Investments, submitted their final proposed design for their addition onto the back of the hotel. The design was heavily maligned by councillors, members of the public, heritage experts and even local celebrities.
Unfortunately, all debate was moot as the city had very little ground to stand on as the decision on the design had been deferred to staff and councillors had little choice but to approve the design.
Now Heritage Ottawa has launched a lawsuit against Larco in order to stop what they believe is a project that will damage the heritage facade of downtown Ottawa.
Rick Chiarelli allegations
Allegations of inappropriate conduct were first reported by the CBC after a once-potential employee of Chiarelli’s said he made allegedly inappropriate requests to her. These requests included wearing certain clothing and whether the woman was comfortable going braless at work.
Since then, 13 women, some former staffers, and other potential staff members have come forward to the CBC with similar allegations against Chiarelli. The city’s integrity commissioner is reportedly investigating the allegations.
Shortly after the allegations surfaced, Chiarelli disappeared from the public eye for a few months and eventually requested a medical leave from council, which was denied. Now, Chiarelli has appeared sporadically at city council and has resumed his duties as a councillor.
Several protests have also taken place at city hall calling for Chiarelli’s resignation, with bras being draped over trees and fixtures in front of city hall.
Chiarelli categorically denies the allegations. On Dec. 13th, he announced he had been hospitalized and would undergo a quadruple bypass heart surgery at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.
Ottawa’s new police chief
After former police chief Charles Bordeleau retired, the task to fill his shoes was appointed to former Toronto Police Deputy Chief Peter Sloly.
Sloly made history in Ottawa as the city’s first ever Black police chief.
Sloly says he comes to the capital with a focus on public outreach for Ottawa police. He wants the public to see the work they do and to not fear interacting with his officers. His mandate also includes an improved focus on mental health and addictions programs in the city to help the most vulnerable in the city.
His first couple of days were exciting with Ottawa police, which included him assisting in the arrest of a suspect while he was riding with one of his officers and taking time to hit the Ottawa police shooting range.
University of Ottawa carding incident
A student at the University of Ottawa campus was skateboarding when security asked to see his ID for proof that he went to the school. He did not have his wallet on him so he couldn’t produce ID, but as he was doing nothing wrong, he didn’t see why he had to.
Security asked him to leave campus and he began recording on his phone. Eventually security called police on the man and he was detained for over an hour.
He was eventually released and not charged but the backlash from the incident forced the University of Ottawa to request a formal third-party investigation into the incident after complaints from their human rights office.
As a result of the investigation deficiencies were found in the university’s policies, which have since been changed.
Sports in the nation’s capital
It was a busy year for sports in the capital as two of its major franchises, the Senators and the Ottawa Redblacks, both split with their coaches.
The Senators fired head coach Guy Boucher after a dismal 2017/2018 season which saw them finish in the bottom of the league. Toronto Maple Leafs Assistant Head Coach DJ Smith was hired to replace him.
The Redblacks and former head coach Rick Campbell parted ways in November after the CFL team had their own dismal 2019 season. Paul LaPolice, formerly the offensive coordinator for the Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers, is now leading the team. He’s the second head coach in the franchise’s six-year history.
The Ottawa 67s had a good year, though, making it all the way to the OHL finals after dominating the league for most of the season. The team didn’t lose a game in the playoffs until coming up against the Guelph Storm and losing four games to two.
But with the loss of one team comes the formation of another, as the Canadian Elite Basketball League decided to add Ottawa to its roster of cities with a professional basketball team. The Ottawa Blackjacks are set to begin their season in spring 2020.
MPP Lisa MacLeod also found herself amidst less-than-flattering headlines about the Ottawa Senators after it broke that she yelled and swore at team owner Eugene Melnyk at a Rolling Stones concert. According to Melnyk, MacLeod approached him and called him a “piece of s***.” MacLeod later apologized for the remarks.
READ MORE: Sports stories from across Ottawa for 2019
Mayor Watson comes out
Perhaps one of the biggest feel-good stories of the year was Mayor Watson’s official coming out as a gay man.
Watson made his announcement in an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen and said he wished he had come out sooner and he cited other open politicians such as his council colleague Catherine McKenney as his inspiration.
He ended his op-ed with some words of advice: “Don’t feel pressured or rushed to come out, but don’t wait 40 years either.”
-With files from the Canadian Press