The Ontario government is setting up interprovincial travel restrictions that will see checkpoints established between Ottawa and Gatineau, Que.
The measures are part of a package of new restrictions unveiled Friday in hopes of slowing the transmission of COVID-19 in the province, including a ban on the use of public outdoor amenities and new powers for police to enforce the Ontario-wide stay-home order.
Premier Doug Ford announced the checkpoints, which will limit travel between Ontario and its neighbouring provinces of Manitoba and Quebec, in a press conference Friday afternoon.
The restrictions will go into effect on Monday, April 19 at 12:01 a.m.
Exemptions to the order will include travel for work, medical care and the transportation of goods.
Speaking to media immediately after Ford’s announcement on Friday, Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly said the city was still waiting for details of the order affecting interprovincial crossings.
Initial indications are that Ottawa police will lead the effort to patrol the city’s five interprovincial crossings.
Sloly said that would pose a “significant staffing challenge” for the local force and said he is having conversations with the OPP, RCMP and the police service in Gatineau to establish a collective plan to enforce the order.
Mayor Jim Watson said he expects Ontario will have to reimburse the OPS if it is are being asked to take on extra duties to enforce the provincial order.
Watson said he hoped for a level of discretion from police to allow some people to cross for reasons not explicitly outlined in the order.
Ottawa’s mayor spoke against the idea of checkpoints when the Quebec government used the same tact on the Gatineau side of the border earlier in the pandemic — but said Friday that it was ultimately the province’s call.
“I’ve never been a big fan of the checkpoint system,” Watson said. “At the end of the day, the province has that responsibility.”
Watson said he spoke with Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin before speaking to media and both leaders agreed they would reiterate the messaging they had used in recent days asking residents to stay on their respective sides of the Ottawa River.
The Outaouais region, which is under special emergency measures from the Quebec government, reported 151 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, roughly half the daily case count seen in Ottawa.
Sloly acknowledges ‘issue of public trust’ in enforcement
While local officials were still being briefed on the exact details of new powers coming to police and bylaw officers during Friday’s press conference, Ontario’s solicitor general Sylvia Jones said earlier that officers will be able to ask residents where they live and why they are out.
Declining to answer those questions would subject residents to a fine of $750, she said.
Many residents and advocacy groups reacting on social media said the policy equates to carding and said Black, Indigenous and racialized residents could be targeted under the new police powers.
Speaking to Global News on the topic of proposed restrictions such as curfews earlier in the week, the co-chair of the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition Alicia-Marie LeJour said that powers like these contribute to issues of over-policing and hypervigilance of Black people.
Asked about these concerns but noting he does not have a full scope of the powers proposed in the new policy, Sloly acknowledged the “issue of public trust and confidence” from Black, Indigenous and racialized communities that comes with directives like this.
He said the new restrictions require the “consent and co-operation of the public” to work.
“Whatever the regulations are, we’re going to try to apply them in the most ethical, legal and effective way possible,” he said.
“We don’t know the details of the legislation, we don’t know the extent to which the law has changed,” he added, calling it “purely speculation as to what those new powers are and how they will impact our operations.”
Also, with outdoor recreation amenities ordered to close under the new provincial restrictions, Ottawa Public Health has paused plans to issue a Section 22 order regulating their use through capacity limits and mandating wearing masks.