Ottawa police to focus on crowds but won’t be ‘counting heads’ on Canada Day

Ottawa police special constables patrol the ByWard Market in Ottawa, on Saturday, June 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Ottawa police are expecting large numbers of residents to gather in parks and on patios on July 1 in what’s shaping up to be a more dispersed Canada Day than usual.

“It will not be a normal Canada Day,” OPS Insp. Michel Marin said during a briefing to the Ottawa Police Services Board on Monday.

Both the ongoing reconstruction efforts at Parliament Hill and restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic have, for the second year in a row, precluded any major events or concerts in Ottawa’s downtown core on July 1.

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But as Ontario enters Step 2 of the provincial reopening plan on Wednesday — allowing outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people and five people indoors — police are expecting a series of gatherings across town rather than a cluster around the Hill.

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That presents a new set of challenges as Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly told reporters on Monday that his force and bylaw services are both “very stretched” and will be focusing on sites with the “greatest risks.”

“There is no way that I have enough police officers, even if they were all on duty, to cover every single park, every single public location where groups of people can gather together,” he said.

A few demonstrations are scheduled in the downtown core on Thursday, including a march calling to cancel Canada Day amid the discoveries of hundreds of unmarked Indigenous graves at former residential schools across the country.

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Marin, meanwhile, named the ByWard Market, Elgin Street and other patio-laden streets as likely high-traffic areas, as are city parks and beaches.

Last year’s Canada Day saw Ottawa police disperse a large crowd gathered in the evening at Mooney’s Bay. This year, the popular beach has an earlier closing time of 9 p.m., and police and bylaw will be around to ensure residents know about the change in procedures this year.

Police have stepped up their presence in high-traffic areas in recent weeks. While Sloly said the same will be true on Canada Day and the ensuing weekend, he put the onus on Ottawa residents to adhere to public health measures amid the pandemic.

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“We’ll have as much presence as we can … to demonstrate we’re there to take enforcement action, if necessary,” he said.

“This is going to come down to one million people in Ottawa recognizing the need to be safe, to be healthy, to be lawful in their activities and policing themselves before there’s any need for bylaw or the Ottawa police service to get involved.”

Marin said that with the allowance for limited indoor gatherings starting on June 30, police will not be doing proactive checks at private residences to make sure people are following the letter of the law.

“We’re not intending on showing up in residences and counting heads or seeing how the celebrations are going. We’re expecting everyone’s going to behave accordingly,” he said.

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