Ottawa Police stop 24/7 monitoring of interprovincial border crossings

OTTAWA — Less than two days after police began stopping interprovincial drivers crossing into Ottawa, the Ottawa Police Service said it would stop monitoring the crossings 24/7.

Police say officers will instead be deployed on a rotating schedule of checkpoints throughout the city on a daily basis.

The changes come hours after Ottawa police began allowing thousands of drivers to cross the provincial border without stopping at provincial checkpoints.

“Traffic was allowed to go, without any congestion, allowed to go through during morning rush hour,” Ottawa police Const. Amy Gagnon said.

“As that rush hour subsided, then the checkpoints and the officers started a rotating check on vehicles entering Ottawa,” Gagnon added.

The checkpoints at the border crossing were part of the Ford government’s new measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. But by Tuesday, police were waving cars through during rush hour.

“I don’t see the point,” Ottawa resident Gilles Marchand said of the police presence at the border.

“These two cities are interconnected, in effect it’s one big metropolitan area. I just don’t see how it’s going to improve the situation,” Marchand added.

According to city data from April 2019, roughly 185,000 vehicles cross the Ottawa-Gatineau border every day.

The first 24 hours of maintaining the checkpoints cost Ottawa police $113,000.

Mayor Jim Watson tweeted the checkpoints are a waste of police resources, and said Monday evening he didn’t think they would last the week.

Police Chief Peter Sloly said the checkpoints were a strain for the service, noting staffing the five bridges and two ferry crossings around the city take up significant resources.

“We’re seeing how we can manage it, what is our manpower. We still have to police, we have a duty to provide those services to our community,” Gagnon said.

Medical and public health experts question the efficacy of the checkpoints, particularly given the number of people crossing without being checked.

“I’m not sure how effective that particular piece can be. Depending on how many exceptions you have, that reduces the effectiveness of the measure for sure,” Dr. Ronald St. John, the former Director General of the Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response for the Public Health Agency of Canada said.

“If you’re going to a worksite that for whatever reason can’t provide social distancing, does not mandate mask wearing and so on, well your risk goes up whether you cross the border or not,” St. John added.

Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden pressed the province about the checkpoints in the legislature on Tuesday, saying “no one in Ottawa asked for these changes.”

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones countered saying it was “critically important to ensure the border crossings were protected.”

Still, Ottawa residents are left wondering if the checkpoints are really worth it.

“Why have people extend their commute from 30 minutes to 2 hours, just to get waved by. So why are we doing this then?” Gilles Marchand said.

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