Ottawa

Recreation not a valid reason to cross Quebec-Ontario border, minister says

Residents in Ontario and Quebec should not cross the provincial border for recreational activities, like skiing and skating, Nepean MPP and Minister for Sport Lisa MacLeod said on Wednesday. 

Ontario urges residents to limit travel, only leave province for 'essential' reasons

A cross country skier hits the trails in Gatineau Park. Ontario's Ministry of Health said interprovincial travel should only be for "essential purposes" at the present time. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Residents in Ontario and Quebec should not cross the provincial border for recreational activities, like skiing and skating, Nepean MPP and Minister for Sport Lisa MacLeod said on Wednesday. 

"My very strong recommendation is for all residents of Ottawa, and obviously the residents of Gatineau, to only travel if it's required, and if it's for work, or it's for a medical necessity," said MacLeod during a virtual funding announcement for Ontario's non-profit organizations. 

Ontario is set to enter a provincewide lockdown on Boxing Day, with tighter restrictions on gatherings, restaurants, stores and some outdoor recreation. 

For many people in Ottawa, places like the Gatineau Park in Outaouais, are often seen as an extension of their own backyards, with many people crossing into Quebec to ski, skate, snowshoe and hike. Quebecers, alternatively, come to Ottawa to skate on the Rideau Canal when it opens. 

Nepean MPP Lisa MacLeod is also Ontario’s Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Minister. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Those are not viewed as essential reasons to cross the border, MacLeod said. 

"At this moment there are a number of recreational facilities on either side of the border, which residents in either city or either province can participate in," said MacLeod.

Only cross for 'essential' reasons

In a statement to CBC on Wednesday, the Ministry of Health clarified interprovincial travel should only be for "essential purposes" at the present time and that during the shutdown period there are added restrictions.

"Individuals and families who arrive or return to Ontario during the Provincewide Shutdown period should self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival," the statement said. 

CBC has asked for clarification on whether the self-isolation recommendation applies to people crossing the border for essential reasons, like for work, but has yet to hear back. 

Ottawa's medical officer of health said on CBC's Ottawa Morning on Wednesday Ottawa residents should only be crossing into Gatineau for "essential purposes."

"People are crossing for work, they're crossing to care for loved ones, to be with family. I don't think there's any stopping that kind of movement," said Etches. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is standing by his government’s decision to put Ottawa under lockdown as of Boxing Day. Why the city’s medical officer of health thinks stricter measures aren't warranted. 12:18

For its part, the National Capital Commission (NCC) said in a statement to CBC on Tuesday its destinations on both sides of the river remain open "so people can have access to safe outdoor activities and exercise venues."

The NCC is consulting with local public health authorities, and it encouraged all of its visitors to respect COVID-19 guidelines.

Border checkpoints unlikely 

Health officials in eastern Ontario had recently asked for Ontario-Quebec border checkpoints to return, to prevent people from travelling for non-essential reasons, but now that Ontario is entering into a similar lockdown to Quebec, those calls have changed.

"We had asked for [border checkpoints] as a possibility if we had not gone into lockdown," Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, told CBC's Ottawa Morning on Wednesday.

Covid cases and potential impact of the provincial shutdown on regions outside of Ottawa 10:01

"The playing field is kind of level on both sides of the border at this point. I think we're not going there," said Roumeliotis.

He said there has been "documented evidence" in his jurisdiction of back and forth travel between the two provinces that "resulted in cases." 

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said Tuesday there was no evidence Quebecers were driving up COVID-19 rates in Ottawa.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hillary Johnstone is a reporter for CBC Ottawa. You can reach her by email hillary.johnstone@cbc.ca.

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