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Policing Canada Day events will be a ‘strain’ on Ottawa police resources: OPS event commander

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Big events and staff shortages put strain on Edmonton hotel industry | CBC News

Big events and staff shortages put strain on Edmonton hotel industry | CBC News

A confluence of large events like concerts returning to the city and staffing shortages is putting pressure on the Edmonton hotel industry.

Country singer Garth Brooks brings his latest tour to the city with shows tonight and Saturday. The Edmonton Pride Festival is also hosting a range of events in the city this weekend.

That is presenting staffing challenges for hotels that see low booking numbers during the week, but experience a surge on the weekends. 

“We have to be creative,” Manendra Sharma, general manager of Sandman Signature Edmonton Downtown, said Friday.

“The consistency of business isn’t there and there is a shortage in the workforce, especially in an industry like [hospitality].”

Staff are being trained in multiple roles which allows for them to maintain steady hours, Sharma said, adding that it helps fill different positions during events when occupancy soars.

Dave Kaiser, president of the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association, said the industry lost staff due to layoffs in the COVID-19 pandemic and many are not returning.

“We scramble to find people to manage it,” Kaiser said. 

“We’re still in a place where occupancy and rates together aren’t strong enough.”

People with luggage stand near the front of a hotel.
Hotels like the Sandman Signature in downtown need creativity to cope with bookings that ebb and flow, general manager Manendra Sharma says. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Travel Alberta data shows that April was the first time hotel occupancy hit 53 per cent since 2019.

The national average is 63 per cent, about seven per cent below 2019 levels, according to a recent Smith Travel Research report. That report showed the lowest occupancy was reported in Edmonton.

A Google search shows that Edmonton hotel rates in most categories are higher than is typical. (Google)

Traci Bednard, chief executive officer of Explore Edmonton, said a lack of international travellers is slowing the recovery.

“They’re the folks that stay the longest and also spend the most most money,” she said. 

Explore Edmonton data shows that internet searches for Alberta and specifically Edmonton are up compared to this time last year.

Bednard believes that is a positive sign that visitors are looking to return. 

“In some ways this is our chance to really get out and experience and enjoy Edmonton … we have more festivals than we do weekends.”