Mayor looks to slam brakes on Gatineau party buses

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson wants to stop partygoers from chartering buses and heading across the river to Gatineau, where restrictions on large gatherings are looser.

Ottawans chartering buses to Quebec where gatherings of 250 are allowed, city says

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is raising concerns about Ottawans travelling across the river to Gatineau to attend big parties, then potentially bringing COVID-19 back home. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson wants to stop partygoers from chartering buses and heading across the river to Gatineau, where restrictions on large gatherings are looser.

"Individuals [are] renting buses, cancelling banquet hall reservations in Ottawa, which have a maximum capacity of 100, and going to Gatineau," Watson told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Wednesday. 

"So they're going to Gatineau and then partying and coming back to Ottawa, potentially with the virus."

In Ontario, indoor gatherings are currently capped at 50 people, while 100 can gather outdoors. Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday he's looking at further tightening those restrictions in areas where COVID-19 case numbers are surging, including Ottawa.

In Quebec, both indoor and outdoor gatherings are limited to 250 people. 

In an email to CBC, Gatineau police confirmed they are aware of people crossing the provincial border to hold larger gatherings in Quebec.

"We will follow up with the establishments that will be visited by these groups and with the organizers. We will not hesitate to take the necessary measures to ensure that the laws and measures in force are respected," said Renée-Anne St-Amant, a spokesperson for the Gatineau police. 

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Roger Chapman, Ottawa's director of bylaw and regulatory services, said his officers don't currently have the power to prevent people from taking advantage of that discrepancy between the two provinces.

"By-law and Regulatory Services (BLRS) is aware of residents of Ottawa boarding chartered buses to attend events in Gatineau. However, as long as participants are abiding by Provincial Orders and the Temporary Mandatory Mask By-law while they are within the City of Ottawa, no enforcement action can be taken," he said in a written statement to CBC.

Watson said he's spoken to Ford and Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin in an effort to harmonize restrictions the Ottawa-Gatineau region.

"Both confirmed they would reach out to the premier of Quebec on the issue," said Patrick Champagne, Watson's press secretary. 

Mask crackdown coming

Watson said it's not just cross-border partying that's causing alarm in the city. He said bylaw officers are also hearing reports of bartenders failing to wear masks while on the job.

The mayor said "the days of warnings are over" for people and businesses that refuse to obey the city's mandatory mask policy. 

"This is serious, and they're now going to be ticketed," Watson warned.

with files from CBC's Joe Tunney and Ottawa Morning

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