The Ottawa Police Service has had to take “unprecedented measures” to staff its Canada Day policing plan, interim chief Steve Bell said Monday, and it’s resulting in a hit to members’ wellbeing.
The police service has had to cancel days off and call people back from annual leave, Bell told reporters before a Monday meeting of the Ottawa Police Services Board. This year’s Canada Day gatherings in the capital are “an all-hands-on deck event, but that has a cost on the health and wellbeing of our members. And I think it’s important that we recognize this,” said Bell.
Unlike pre-pandemic Canada Days, when OPS would handle the downtown core while the Parliamentary Protective Service or RCMP were responsible for celebrations on the hill, this year’s celebrations are stretching over a wider span of the city’s core.
Supt. Rob Bernier, the Canada Day event commander, told the police services board the Ottawa police footprint on July 1 will extend across approximately three kilometres downtown, from the Canadian Heritage celebrations on LeBreton Flats through the Wellington Street corridor to the ByWard Market.
According to Bell, the federal government has advised that “hundreds of thousands of people” are expected to flood into the downtown area Friday. At the last pre-pandemic Canada Day celebration, on July 1, 2019, some 56,000 visitors to the Hill were counted throughout the day and about 30,000 spectators attended the evening show.
“This is a unique year. We’ve been locked down or not able to participate in something like this for the past two years. So people are ready to come out and celebrate,” said Bell. There are also various “freedom movement” groups ready to come out to protest.
A total of 15 Canada Day events are expected across the city, including five that should be “relatively significant in size and time,” Bernier told the board, with celebrations throughout the day and fireworks at night. Bell told board members that the ability to respond and maintain public safety in various parts of the city has been a key component of their planning.
Bernier did warn that the coming days will be a strain on OPS resources. The service has reached out to other Ontario municipal police forces, the OPP, other provinces and the RCMP, but they too are dealing with Canada Day events and demonstrations in their respective jurisdictions as well as having personnel on summer holidays, said Bernier.
“We’ll continue to work to ensure that we have the resources in place with the support of the various agencies that are stepping up to help us.”
When it comes to its own workforce, OPS has taken “unprecedented measures to ensure every available officer and police member is deployed” for the July 1 events, Bell said Monday. This comes after the deployment of “a great number” of officers at January and February’s Freedom Convoy occupation, a rolling protest through downtown Ottawa in March and motorcycle-themed “Rolling Thunder” rally in late April. Calls for service have also been on the rise as pandemic restrictions have relaxed, according to Bell.
“We have a fatigued workforce. Our members are tired. They’ve had to work very hard over a long period of time,” said Bell.
“It’s not sustainable forever to be able to make people or request that people work as much as we have over the last period of time.”