Western Quebec officials urge caution as checkpoints come down

Local officials in Quebec are welcoming the relaxation of rules that restricted travel from Ontario — but they caution people to avoid unnecessary trips to the region.

Travel had been restricted at bridges from Ottawa into Gatineau

Checkpoints set up by police to restrict traffic from Ottawa into Gatineau come down on Monday. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Officials in western Quebec are welcoming the relaxation of rules that restricted travel from Ontario — but are cautioning people to avoid unnecessary trips to the region.

Police checkpoints set up at bridges and roadways leading from Ottawa into Gatineau come down today, as the Quebec government relaxes restrictions in place since April 1.

Val-des-Monts, Que., Mayor Jacques Laurin said he initially agreed with the province's decision to block off the bridges across the Ottawa River, but as time went on, it became harder to defend.

Laurin said he's received numerous calls from Ontario cottage owners, many of whom are eager to check on their properties in the small municipality about 25 kilometres north of Ottawa.

"It was pretty hard to explain to the people that they couldn't cross over," said Laurin, noting Val-des-Monts is home to some 1,600 cottages and at least 600 secondary homes. 

It was pretty hard to explain to the people that they couldn't cross over.- Val-des-Monts Mayor Jacques Laurin, 

Blocking travellers from Ontario was part of a broader plan to limit travel between regions of Quebec to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Only trips for essential work, medical appointments or humanitarian reasons were allowed. Police were given the discretion to determine who could enter and who had to turn around.

Many of those restrictions have now been lifted following the advice of public health authorities, although the Quebec government continues to discourage unnecessary travel.

Val-des-Monts, Que., Mayor Jacques Laurin says he is happy the interprovincial border is open, but wants people to keep following physical distancing measures. (CBC)

'Not out of the woods yet'

Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin said the lifting of restrictions doesn't mean people are free to travel as they please.

Pedneaud-Jobin said people should resist the urge to come to the region just to shop. Those who do come should stay at least two metres away from others, he added.

"I call on people's sense of responsibility to respect the rules," Pedneaud-Jobin said. "Play it safe. We're not out of the woods yet."

The easing of the restrictions is good news for Ottawa resident Chris Ault, who has a cottage in the Outaouais and had started a petition urging the Quebec government to take down the checkpoints.

He said Monday that he'll be taking precautions for his visits this year.

"We do all the shopping [for] groceries the night before we plan to leave — load the car up, hit the local gas station, and once we hit the Queensway it's non-stop all the way through," he said.

"The time at the cottage is so incredibly precious. The last thing we want to do is go shopping."

Since the pandemic began, 395 people in Outaouais have tested positive for COVID-19 — with the vast majority of those cases in Gatineau — and most have recovered.

As of Sunday, 11 people had died in western Quebec. 

If case numbers in the Outaouais go up again, roadside checks could come back, the Quebec government warns.

With files from Natalia Goodwin and Radio-Canada

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