March 31, 2023

Denley – Metropolis Of Ottawa's Tricky COVID-19 Crackdown Measures

Denley – Metropolis Of Ottawa’s Tricky COVID-19 Crackdown Measures

Jim Watson, Mayor of Ottawa, Keith Egli, Councillor, Chair, Board of Health, Dr. Vera Etches, Medical Officer of Health, Ottawa Public Health address a press conference in March. Are officials starting to over-step?

Errol McGihon / Postmedia

Reasonable people will disagree about where to draw the line between too little and too much enforcement, but our municipal government seems to be a little overly enthusiastic.

Our governments need to walk a fine line when enforcing the unprecedented restrictions that have been imposed to control the spread of COVID-19. Some enforcement is necessary to underline the seriousness of the situation, but too much looks foolish and adds to the already substantial stress we’re all facing.

About Denley:

Denley: City of Ottawa’s tough COVID-19 crackdown measures …

About Ottawa’s

Reasonable people will disagree about where to draw the line between too little and too much enforcement, but for me, Ottawa’s municipal government has been a little overly enthusiastic.

Should a dad with an autistic four-year-old be threatened with a potential fine of $700 for playing soccer with his son on a piece of land that doesn’t appear to be connected to any park? What was the potential harm? There was certainly none apparent. The same could be said for the man who was fined $880 for walking his dog in Britannia Park. How was that any more threatening to public health than walking his dog on a street, which is still allowed?

Denley: City of Ottawa’s tough COVID-19 crackdown measures …

These are onerous penalties, especially at a time when so many people are facing financial hardship. They aren’t nearly as excessive as what is allowed under the provincial rules, though. Individuals can be fined up to $100,000 for breaking provincial public activity restrictions but that’s nothing compared to the federal law for failure to self-isolate. That comes with a fine of up to $750,000 or six months in jail. Yes, people should self-isolate, but are we really going to jail those who do not? Government is trying to get people out of jails for health reasons, not put them in.


The bylaw enforcement is not the first example of the city getting carried away. Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, has conducted herself well during the pandemic, with the exception of musing that it might be useful to track people’s cellphones to see if they are congregating. She backed off the idea, but it’s a police-state tactic. What’s next, electronic ankle bracelets?

The most outrageous example of overreach is Quebec’s decision to arbitrarily limit people crossing from Ontario into Quebec (and travelling within Quebec itself). When it comes to this Quebec government, petty actions are never a surprise, but do the politicians in faraway Quebec City not realize that Ottawa and Gatineau are effectively one city and need to be treated as such?

Those who think Canadians shouldn’t be allowed to cross interprovincial borders say that they are trying to prevent frivolous things such as a run to the dépanneur for cheap beer. OK, if that’s a problem, why is driving to the LCBO all right? Or for that matter, why is it permissible for Quebecers to cross into Ottawa for health care? If it’s really every province for itself, Ontario should be preserving scarce hospital beds for people who pay taxes in Ontario.

Governments need to remind themselves the big message is that people need to limit interaction, and they have been enormously successful in getting that message out. A new national poll by the Angus Reid Institute shows that nearly 90 per cent of Canadians say they have a clear understanding of what they are required to do. When it comes to communication, you can’t get much better than that. The nearly empty streets across the country show that people are taking staying at home and distancing seriously. There will never be perfect compliance.

Rather than punishing people for walking the dog or playing soccer with their children, our city government needs to do more to make our pandemic-restricted lives tolerable. Public parks are the only refuge for many people in the core of the city. You know, those dense urban areas the city has been encouraging for years. Now, Mayor Jim Watson is musing that he might stop people from even walking through public parks. It’s too much.

Watson and his fellow politicians might want to remember that while people have allowed them unprecedented powers, the expectation is that those powers will be used wisely, and humanely.

Randall Denley is an Ottawa political commentator and author. Contact him at [email protected]

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