Ottawa

Mayor mask a no go at city hall, LRT protester says

An Ottawa woman who wore a large papier mâché likeness of Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson to city hall to protest the ongoing LRT problems claims she was asked by security guards to take it off.

Velvet LeClair says security asked her to remove costume during Family Day party

Velvet LeClair says she was asked to remove this mask of Mayor Jim Watson at city hall Monday. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

An Ottawa woman who wore a large papier mâché likeness of Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson to city hall to protest the ongoing LRT problems claims she was asked by security guards to take it off.

Velvet LeClair donned the mask and a cardboard train bearing the slogan "Fix the LRT" to Watson's Family Day skating party on Monday.

LeClair began with a skate on the Sens Rink of Dreams, where she said her costume was well-received.

"A lot of people were laughing and taking pictures," she said.

LeClair said the trouble began when she entered city hall and approached the real mayor. She said she introduced herself as Jim Watson and told him to fix the LRT. A photo of the encounter shows Watson smiling as he appears to lift her mask.

LeClair encounters the real mayor inside city hall during Family Day celebrations. (Marnie Wellar/Twitter)

LeClair claims security staff later approached her to say her mask was a face covering and the cardboard train was considered a "sign," and therefore not allowed inside city hall.

"We thought that was just in [council] chambers," LeClair said. "[The security guard] said no, it's all City of Ottawa property."

Marnie Wellar, who helped make the costume and accompanied LeClair to city hall, corroborated her friend's story to CBC.

"The security guard came over ... and told us that the mask was considered a face covering and face coverings were not allowed on city property, and that the tiny LRT [car] was considered a sign and signs were not allowed on city property," said Wellar.

"We were there to protest and they told us we had to take off the things that we had ... to protest with. So, basically, the protest was cancelled."

While the city could not confirm the incident occurred as described, a spokesperson told CBC LeClair was never "removed" from the building.

In an separate emailed statement, the city said it "respects the right of residents to demonstrate on City Hall property. Demonstrations take place regularly at city hall without incident. For security reasons, staff have a long-standing practice to restrict signs and placards within city hall."

Velvet LeClair says she was asked to leave city property after wearing a papier mâché mask of mayor Jim Watson at City Hall. She says making art is a creative way of getting a message across — and Watson isn’t the only politician whose likeness she’s worn. 0:58

'We cannot quell dissent'

Nevertheless, Coun. Catherine McKenney said the incident is upsetting.

"It's gotten to a point right now at city hall where we're really ... not tolerating any type of dissension," the Somerset ward councillor said.

"People may disagree with you. They may even protest you, but as long as it's done in a fair and calm way we have to be able to take that.... We cannot quell dissent."

McKenney said there are actually no rules preventing people from carrying signs inside city hall.

"Staff made a decision to limit food in council chambers, banners, that sort of thing. But this has gone beyond [that]. This is outside of council chambers and ... it's a real concern."

City hall security under scrutiny

New security measures at city hall introduced at the end of 2019 received criticism from some councillors and community members who were concerned about the stifling of public participation in city business.

New security gates at the entrances to the foyer outside Andrew S. Haydon Hall were also approved and installed on Jan 23.

McKenney said city hall is a public space where residents are allowed to hold placards and stage peaceful demonstrations, and said they will be following up with city staff to ensure security officials get that message.

"The rules have to be made clear as to what is and isn't allowed," McKenney said.

On Monday, a protester wearing a giant face mask of Mayor Jim Watson she says she was asked to leave City Hall for wearing a face covering. It's prompting councillors to question the city's security rules. 6:18

As an artist, LeClair said she uses her craft to express her views in a fun way that appeals to children.

"I just think it's a more effective way of getting my message across," she said. "I'm just tired of the typical protest where you stand there in silence listening to speakers for an hour. I think that doing something engaging is just a better, more effective way of doing it."

LeClair said the incident Monday has not deterred her, and she plans to return to city hall with her costume.

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