As police forces in Quebec began enforcing new regional travel restrictions on Wednesday to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus — including travel into the province from Ontario — the mayor of Ottawa says there are “no plans” to station police officers on interprovincial crossings that link the city with Gatineau.
“We don’t believe on this side that it’s necessary,” Jim Watson said in a teleconference call with reporters.
“We certainly would not support putting municipal police resources on five bridges 24 hours a day. I don’t think it would make any sense and it would take police away from doing vital work during this pandemic.”
The Quebec government announced Wednesday morning it would begin restricting access to four additional regions in the province as of 12 p.m. — including the Outaouais region in western Quebec — in order to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Those two police forces set up roadblocks on all five Ottawa-Gatineau bridges on Wednesday afternoon. At around 4 p.m., the City of Ottawa reported traffic disruptions or delays on the bridges and at the Cumberland-Masson Angers ferry due to the checkpoints.
Global News observed officers asking all Gatineau-bound drivers why they were entering Quebec. Drivers whose entry was deemed “non-essential” were turned around.
Residents are not being prevented from crossing the river but officers were observed asking them why they were coming in from Ontario.
Ottawa’s police chief has confirmed that Quebec can only limit traffic going into that province and not traffic coming into Ontario — and the national capital doesn’t plan to set up similar “spot checks,” Watson said.
“At this point, while we continue to encourage people only to be going to Quebec and Gatineau if they have essential business, we do not plan on putting up any spot checks on our side of the river.”
Watson and the mayor of Gatineau had jointly asked their residents on March 24 to limit any travel between the two cities to “essential trips” amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Checkpoints will be ‘sporadic,’ Gatineau police say
A spokesperson for the Gatineau police service confirmed the checkpoints will be “sporadic” and Gatineau officers will monitor the interprovincial bridges, except for the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge, which falls under the jurisdiction of Quebec provincial police.
Gatineau police will also monitor the ferry stop at Masson-Angers and the intersection of Highway 148 and Chemin Terry-Fox in Aylmer.
When the checkpoints are set up, all drivers travelling into Quebec will be questioned, the spokesperson confirmed.
What’s deemed an “essential” reason to be entering the province will be determined on a case-by-case basis, according to Gatineau police. Travel related to essential work, receiving health care or humanitarian reasons will be permitted.
People could be subject to a fine if they don’t respect the new Quebec travel restrictions, but police don’t want to issue those fines if possible and are “trying to collaborate” with people, the spokesperson said.
Watson suggested the City of Ottawa hadn’t been given a detailed heads-up about Quebec’s plans and how they would be enforced, saying that municipal officials learned more information about the checkpoints “primarily through the media” on Wednesday.
Asked for comment about Quebec’s new restrictions on non-essential travel, a spokesperson for the Ottawa Police Service said the force is “monitoring for any potential impacts on the Ontario side.”
“We will work with our city partners to address any emerging issues,” the statement said.
As of Wednesday, there are 64 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Outaouais region, according to the Quebec government’s figures.
In Ottawa, the local health unit said there are 194 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city, including outbreaks at three retirement homes, one long-term care facility and one group home for people with developmental disabilities.
There have been three COVID-19-related deaths in the national capital, according to Ottawa Public Health.
-With a file from Kalina LaframboiseView link »