Ottawa’s mayor is looking to set the record straight after his words were used in Ontario’s legislature Tuesday to defend the provincial border checkpoints — a COVID-19 measure he’s been outspoken against in the past.
Ottawa police have been staffing checkpoints 24-7 at the city’s interprovincial crossings into Gatineau, Que., since Monday morning after Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced new restrictions for travel into the province on Friday. The Quebec government instituted similar border restrictions on those entering its province.
The result saw long lineups of cars attempting to enter Ontario during Monday morning’s commute.
Both Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and police Chief Peter Sloly have been critical of the new policy, with Sloly saying in interviews this week that the new demands are “stretching” OPS resources.
Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden rose in the provincial legislature Tuesday morning to call the checkpoints “wasteful” and asked the province to reverse the policy and instead fund programs such as paid sick leave to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones defended the checkpoints on the grounds that Ontario must do “everything” it can to slow the rapid transmission of COVID-19 variants of concern in the province.
When Harden noted Sloly and Watson’s objections to the checkpoints, Jones read previous quotes from the mayor asking residents to stay in Ottawa to slow the spread of the virus.
She cited examples from this month and last, as well as from December, in which Watson asked residents to avoid travel across the Ottawa River for non-essential reasons such as skiing at Quebec hills this past winter.
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Watson had said before Ford’s announcement on Friday that he and Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin both agreed to encourage their residents not to cross the interprovincial borders whenever possible amid surging case counts in the National Capital Region.
“I support Mayor Watson’s words,” Jones said in response to Harden.
Watson shot back via Twitter on Jones’ use of his comments at Queen’s Park, saying there was a “world of difference” between encouraging residents to avoid non-essential travel to Quebec and instituting 24-7 checkpoints.
“Yesterday was a nightmare and a complete waste of police resources,” he said.
A follow-up comment to Global News from Watson’s press secretary said the mayor has been “consistent” since the pandemic began that travel across the Ottawa River should be limited to essential purposes, but that checkpoints are an unnecessary measure of enforcement.
“Mayor Watson opposed the government of Quebec’s implementation of checkpoints at the beginning of the pandemic and he remains against any use of police resources to check drivers coming to and from Ottawa and Gatineau. The checkpoints have caused unnecessary delays for thousands of essential workers, particularly those working at hospitals who were up to two hours late for their shifts yesterday morning,” the statement read.