Manitobans and Quebecers hoping to open their Ontario cottages this spring will have to postpone until at least May 5 as interprovincial travel between Ontario and the two provinces has been closed to all non-essential road travel. The announcement came last Friday as part of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s latest public health restrictions in response to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the province.
To uphold the border closures, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have set up checkpoints at interprovincial crossings. “We’ve been there since 12:01 a.m. on Monday morning,” said OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson.
Commercial vehicles are exempt from the closure, including transport trucks and other essential services, but everyone else is being stopped. “Anything with an Ontario plate, we’re bringing them into the checkpoint, but then waving them through. We’re basically slowing everyone down so we can see the licence plate and keep everyone safe, including our own members,” Dickson said. “Anyone with another province’s plate, we’re stopping them and asking about their reasons for entering Ontario.”
Valid reasons for entering the province include having your primary residence in Ontario, working in Ontario, requiring healthcare or social services, or travelling through Ontario to another destination—among a long list of other reasons. For cottagers looking to cross the border, the only valid reason to visit their property is if they’re travelling to prevent damages.
If someone attempting to pass through the border doesn’t meet one of these requirements, Dickson said they will be turned around. If the person disobeys a lawful order and tries to drive past the checkpoint, Dickson said the individual could face serious charges.
The OPP is responsible for monitoring checkpoints between Ontario and Manitoba’s border as well as checkpoints between Ontario and Quebec through eastern Ontario and Renfrew County. While the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) is responsible for the checkpoints located at the five interprovincial crossings between Ottawa and Gatineau.
The plan was for the checkpoints to be in place 24 hours a day, for several weeks, but as of Tuesday morning, OPS have stopped monitoring the Ottawa-Gatineau crossings round-the-clock and instead switched to a rotating schedule. During a press conference on Friday, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said that monitoring the border 24/7 would be a serious staffing strain on the OPS.
In the same press conference, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who spoke out against the Quebec border closure in April 2020, reiterated his opposition to the checkpoints. He expects the provincial government to reimburse the OPS for the added burden of patrolling the Ottawa-Gatineau border.
“It should not be up to local taxpayers to fund a checkpoint at an interprovincial bridge,” he said. “The expectation is that the province will pay for our costs because it’s going to require significant person power.”
Despite his opposition to the idea, Watson deferred to the provincial government, saying that at the end of the day border closures were its responsibility.
In line with the province’s messaging, Watson added: “This is not the time to head to your cottage or to go for a hike in Gatineau Park.”