Stay home. Stay home. Stay home.
That’s been the consistent plea from public health authorities for nearly two months now.
Stay home to avoid catching COVID-19. Stay home to avoid spreading it. Stay home to stay healthy.
The message seems to have landed. Workplaces and public spaces have closed, leaving the streets of even Canada’s biggest cities looking like virtual ghost towns at times.
But that can only last so long, right? Surely stir-crazy Canadians will eventually look at the generally declining numbers of new COVID-19 cases and conclude that it must be safe to venture outside, just a little bit, even if the government is saying otherwise? Especially once blustery spring weather is replaced by warm, sunny summer?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems to think so. On Thursday, in announcing that some national parks will be reopened June 1, Trudeau seemed to suggest that the decision was in part based on getting ahead of expected behaviours.
“We know that you can’t prevent Canadians from going outside when the weather is nice,” he said.
The latest data available from two tech giants’ tracking of Canadians’ movements during the pandemic indicates that the prime minister may be correct in that assessment.
Google has been maintaining mobility reports for many countries during the pandemic. The reports are compiled based on data from Google users who allow the company to track the locations they visit and keep a log of them.
The company’s latest report for Canada, which contains data up to May 7, shows that while Canadians are spending far less time at stores, offices and transit stations than they were before the pandemic, the numbers are slowly inching back to the pre-pandemic normal.
In retail and recreation – a category that includes restaurants, shopping malls, libraries and theatres, among other destinations – the amount of time logged by Canadians in mid-April was approximately 50 per cent below what it was before the pandemic. By early May, the drop was closer to 40 per cent.
Canadians are also, based on Google data, spending more time in grocery stores, pharmacies, workplaces and transit stations than they were even a month ago, and slightly less time in their homes.
The most telling statistic, though, might be the amount of time spent in parks. That figure was near or below the pre-pandemic baseline for several weeks, reaching a low of nearly negative 40 per cent in early April. It shot up as soon as May hit. On May 7 – the last day for which data is available – Canadians spent 32 per cent more time in parks than they did before the pandemic, according to Google.
Some of that can be explained by loosening restrictions in certain parts of the countries. Time spent in parks on May 7 was the most abnormally high in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, both of which have started reopening their normal societies. In Ontario, which has been slower to reopen, Google reports that park usage remains closer to pre-pandemic (i.e. winter) levels.
Apple has a different method for estimating movement patterns during the pandemic. Its Mobility Trends Reports compare current search volumes in Apple Maps for driving, walking and transit directions to pre-pandemic levels, on the assumption that fewer users asking for directions correlates with fewer people using each method of transit.
According to Apple’s data, the number of routing requests from Canada fell sharply in the second half of March and bottomed out around Easter weekend. There have been steady week-by-week increases since then, with May 8 bringing the highest search numbers since the pandemic began. On that day, requests for driving directions were at 85 per cent of their usual levels, and requests for walking directions at 76 per cent of their usual levels. Both of these numbers were regularly around 50 per cent in early April.
Public transit directions continue to lag well behind, having risen from lows of 18 per cent in early April to pandemic-era highs of 25 per cent last week.
Based on the trends in Apple’s data, it is entirely possible that requests for walking and driving directions could be back in the range of their usual levels as soon as this weekend.
This may help explain why Trudeau followed his comment that nobody can stop Canadians from enjoying nice weather with this: “You just have to help them do it safely. Continue to impress upon them the need for physical distancing. Recognize that certain areas are more vulnerable than others.”
From the prime minister, at least, it seems the message may be shifting from “stay home” to “stay safe.”
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All three levels of government, police, organizers granted full standing on inquiry
OTTAWA — The commissioner of the inquiry examining Ottawa’s use of the Emergencies Act to bring an end to the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protest in February has granted standing to the organizers, police and representatives of all three levels of government.
The decision by Paul Rouleau means those granted standing will be given advance notice on information submitted into evidence before the inquiry, and also gives them certain privileges, such as the opportunity to suggest or cross-examine witnesses.
Those granted full standing in the public inquiry include the federal, Alberta and Saskatchewan governments, the cities of Ottawa and Windsor, Ont., the Ottawa Police Service, Ontario Provincial Police and the organizers of the convoy, including Tamara Lich, Tom Marazzo and Chris Barber.
Former Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly will be allowed to produce documents, make submissions on factual, evidentiary and policy-related issues and examine witnesses, and the Manitoba government has been granted permission to provide written submissions.
However, Rouleau denied standing to the Conservative Party of Canada and several participants of the protests, some of whom had their bank accounts frozen under the Act.
Rouleau said it is important that the inquiry remain an independent, non-partisan process, noting there is also the Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons on the Declaration of Emergency reviewing the use of the Act’s powers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2022.
The Canadian Press
Ottawa police say they're ready to shut down Canada Day occupation attempts – CBC.ca
Ottawa city officials say they are prepared for a “unique” Canada Day, with plans to keep anti-government protests from turning into another occupation.
The traditional nationally broadcast shows are returning for the first time since 2019, this time from the plaza in front of the Canadian War Museum because of ongoing construction on Parliament Hill.
Ottawa police say they expect more protests and larger crowds than usual during Canada Day celebrations as groups related to the Freedom Convoy continue to plan demonstrations. Some in those groups have indicated they’d like to protest through July and August.
“This is expected to be a unique Canada Day, with larger crowds and a larger event footprint,” interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell said during a Monday news conference.
“We’ve developed our plans in the shadow of the unlawful protests and Rolling Thunder event. We’ve been speaking with community members and businesses and we’re very aware of the lingering trauma and concern about what they’re hearing after those events.”
Bell said officers will allow legal protests while shutting down illegal activities, including setting up structures or speakers without a permit and the threat of occupation, like on downtown streets in the winter.
He said police have been following online commentary and trying to talk to people who’ve said they’re coming to protest.
“[We’ve] planned, we’re prepared and we have the resources,” Bell replied when answering a question about whether police were ready to step in again like they did in late April, when attempts to gather near the Rideau Centre mall were shut down by officers.
Provincial police and the RCMP have offered help to shut down occupation attempts as long as there’s a risk, he said.
The Ottawa Police Services Board received an update on plans for Canada Day when it met Monday evening.
Bell spoke about the toll recent months have taken on officers, noting the demand is not “sustainable” and describing police as “fatigued” ahead of the long weekend.
“For this event we’ve actually had to cancel days off, we’ve cancelled discretionary time off, called people back from annual leave,” said the chief. “This is an all hands on deck event, but that has a cost on the health and wellbeing of our members.”
At least 5 days of traffic control
Last week, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told people thinking of coming to the capital “not to be intimidated by individuals who may be coming to Ottawa to cause trouble.”
He said Monday he wants this to be a safe, festive event for children and families and that people who “come to disrupt” will be dealt with, without a warning.
Bell told the police board that the force has been clear with its expectations for demonstrators, and that harassment won’t be tolerated.
“If there is a hate or bias crime incidents, if there’s intimidation or threats, we will actively investigate those,” he said, adding police know residents have “scars” from the occupation.
“I want to reassure you that those feelings, that trauma that our community has felt is front and centre in all of our planning efforts and will be front and centre in our response efforts.”
Overall, Bell said police are expecting hundreds of thousands of people downtown. For comparison, an estimated 56,000 people went to the shows on Parliament Hill in 2019 and that doesn’t count everyone celebrating nearby.
There will be the traditional Canada Day road closures Friday July 1 and early Saturday, though there are more closures near LeBreton Flats because of that change in show location.
But Ottawa police are establishing another “vehicle exclusion zone” — similar to what was set up in late April for the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally — with no street parking at all and no protest vehicles allowed in from 8 a.m. this Wednesday until at least 6 a.m. on Monday, July 4.
Those plans may change if needed, officials said Monday. People are asked to plan ahead, expect delays and check city pages and local media for updates.
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