Ottawa Mayor Rejects Feds' Offer to Take Over Wellington Street to Keep It Closed in the Wake of Freedom Convoy
Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe has rejected an offer by the federal government to take over a section of Wellington Street that runs past Parliament Hill with the aim of “maintaining the current road closure” in the aftermath of the Freedom Convoy protest.
In a written response on April 6, Sutcliffe reminded Procurement Minister Helena Jaczek of his city council’s decision back in February to reopen the “iconic” street, and said it would be “premature” to sign such a deal before the city has finished its internal review.
“City staff are actively working on implementing the actions emanating from this motion. Wellington Street will be opened with one traffic lane and bike lane in each direction,” he wrote.
Sutcliffe was responding to Jaczek who wrote him a letter on April 4 telling him that her government wants to “reimagine” the parliamentary precinct and keep vehicles off Wellington Street. The city had planned to reopen the street later this year.
“I have a mandate … to engage with you directly on the transfer of Wellington Street and Sparks Street into federal jurisdiction,” said the letter, whose contents were originally reported by CTV News on April 14.
“The objective of this agreement would be to address the immediate security imperative by maintaining the current road closure, while providing the City and the federal government time to establish a fair deal and launch planning activities.”
Part of Wellington Street has been blocked off since early 2022, after thousands of people supporting the Freedom Convoy movement arrived at the city’s downtown core to protest against the country’s COVID-19 mandates and restrictions during a three-week span.
The Freedom Convoy, which began on Jan. 29 and ended on Feb. 20 of 2022, started out as a demonstration by truck drivers opposing federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border travel, but grew exponentially when supporters from across the country joined in to call for an end to all pandemic mandates and restrictions. The protests ended after the Liberal government invoked the Emergencies Act to clear the demonstrations.
In her letter to Sutcliffe, Jaczek said the protests in Ottawa “exposed vulnerabilities” associated with Wellington Street, and thus proposed the possibility of “establishing an interim care and control agreement.”
According to the letter, Sutcliffe, Jaczek, and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair have been holding discussions about the street’s future. In December 2022, the PROC recommended expanding the parliamentary precinct for security reasons.
“That the federal jurisdiction for the operational security of Parliament Hill be expanded to include sections of Wellington and Sparks streets and, if necessary, that a transfer of land take place between the City of Ottawa and Public Services and Procurement to allow for Wellington Street and Sparks Street to become part of Parliament Hill,” wrote the committee in one of its several recommendations.
Commissioner Paul Rouleau, who led a public inquiry into the government’s use of the Emergencies Act, said in his final report that governments, police, and the Parliamentary Protective Service, which provides security on the Hill, should continue discussions about changes to “the division of responsibilities for policing and security in the National Capital Region.”
Jaczek said the transfer would be done “with the view to working together to reimagine this space as Canada’s pre-eminent civic forum for the residents of Ottawa and all Canadians.”
She added that the federal government will also pay for things such as bike lanes, seating, beautification, and possibly a bistro in time for Canada Day.
Sutcliffe said until a traffic study that informs on the impacts of closing Wellington Street for good is ready, and the city’s internal review on the implications of transferring the street to the federal government is completed, it’s too early to sign the pact.
In the meantime, Sutcliffe said staff will work with the federal government on ways to “animate” the section of Wellington Street that faces Parliament Hill for special events.
His letter did not address Sparks Street.
Noé Chartier and The Canadian Press contributed to this report.