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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

Click to play video: 'Ontario police set up checkpoints along borders, begin turning away non-essential travelers' Ontario police set up checkpoints along borders, begin turning away non-essential travelers
WATCH ABOVE: On Monday, Ontario police began restricting entry into the province to only those with essential reasons, or whose primary residence is in Ontario. Marney Blunt travelled to the Manitoba-Ontario border to see how things were going on day one – Apr 19, 2021

Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

Read more: COVID-19: Ottawa mayor objects to solicitor general quoting him on border closures

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“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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Read more: COVID-19: Here’s a list of valid travel reasons amid Ontario’s border closures

 

The solicitor general’s spokesperson reiterated that the border restrictions are intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 variants of concern in Ontario.

The enforcement on interprovincial travel began early Monday as checkpoints across the province were setup.

Later in the morning, it resulted in long lines of residents who tried to enter Ottawa from Gatineau.

As of early Monday, police services began enforcing restrictions that limit interprovincial travel by setting up checkpoints at borders.

Both Chief Peter Sloly and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson were critical of the new policy. Sloly said in interviews that the new demands are “stretching” the service’s resources.

Read more: ‘Hospitals are buckling’: Ontario’s science table makes urgent push for stronger COVID-19 measures

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.

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.

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Meanwhile, Ontario Provincial Police reported establishing 10 checkpoints at border locations alongside Quebec and Manitoba.

— With files from Craig Lord and Ryan Rocca

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