COVID-19: Ottawa mayor, police chief push back against Ontario border closures

Click to play video: 'Checkpoints go up at Quebec border with Ontario'
Checkpoints go up at Quebec border with Ontario
As of Monday, the Quebec-Ontario border is closed to all non-essential travel as Ontario grapples with a surge in COVID-19 cases. Police checkpoints have been put in place to enforce the rules. – Apr 19, 2021

Officials in Ottawa are questioning the use of police resources to check motorists at interprovincial bridges amid long lineups of commuters on the first day of Ontario’s border closures Monday.

The Ottawa Police Service set up 24-7 checkpoints at the city’s interprovincial crossings at 12:01 a.m. on Monday under new COVID-19 restrictions announced Friday by Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Quebec has imposed similar restrictions for those entering the province.

While there are some travel exemptions, including workers and people with residences on the other side of the Ottawa River, the closures caused congestion for many motorists trying to get into Ontario on Monday’s commute.

Click to play video: 'Ontario to set up border checkpoints, beef up police powers'
Ontario to set up border checkpoints, beef up police powers

The need to staff the checkpoints raised concerns for OPS Chief Peter Sloly, who said in a radio interview with CFRA Monday that police resources are further “stretched” with new demands at the interprovincial border.

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He said the OPS will co-operate with city and provincial officials but also suggested that he might divert officers away from the bridge if other policing demands arise in the days to come.

Mayor Jim Watson has also made clear his dissatisfaction with the idea of border closures, dating to earlier in the pandemic when Quebec had shut down crossings from Gatineau.

The mayor’s spokesperson said in an email that Watson will be on a call with Ford and other Ontario mayors later this week and intends to raise the issue with the premier.

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Watson said when the impending closures were first announced on Friday that he expects Ontario to cover the costs of staffing the checkpoints.

Ottawa’s mayor and police service pushed back against other public health orders put in place at the end of last week, both of which were subsequently walked back over the weekend.

The OPS was among numerous police forces across the province who stated they would not conduct “random stops” with the new proposed powers that would give officers the power to ask residents where they live or where they are going while out in public.

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Ontario’s solicitor general walked back those measures on Saturday, saying police would only be able to stop people they had reason to believe they were going to an organized gathering.

Ontario police forces have since said they’ll focus their enforcement on large gatherings of more than five people.

Watson also expressed his support on Twitter for reopening playgrounds in Ontario, just before Ford announced that those restrictions, too, would be rolled back following an uproar from parents.

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