I’ve had some time to reflect, and so have the authorities. It is obvious someone screwed up, to use the vernacular, but no-one wants to take the blame.
As I mentioned earlier, getting to Parliament Hill on Canada Day was a challenge. For once I am not going to bash our transit agency, OC Transpo, for the delays and hassles. With that many people converging on the downtown ant once, and all wanting to leave at the same time, chaos was inevitable. The system just isn’t designed for it. Apparently though, the security system wasn’t designed terribly well either.
We live in a post 9/11 climate. Security is heightened at major public events and delays are inevitable. Ottawa’s police chief says the system worked on Canada Day, there were no incidents. I don’t think he understands it from a public perspective.
Everyone is grateful that there were no incidents. What people didn’t appreciate is spending hours in lines that led nowhere, being told after a three-hour wait that the line they were in was not an access line for Parliament Hill. Media reported that some people waited five and eight hours to get onto the Hill. Which brought about another problem: having taken so long to get on the Hill, no-one wanted to leave, but there was no place to buy food, so people were pretty hungry. Not great planning.
The police chief says he was told by Parliamentary Protective Services (PPS) that they could proves 10,000 people through security each hour. The PPS says the number they gave was 8,000. And that was presuming a warm sunny day. That it was pouring rain meant that people arrive in rain gear, and all of that had to be checked, which naturally slowed things down.
I’m going to offer some suggestions, which probably won’t be necessary in future years, given that there will be less hype now that Canada150 celebrations are past. A little forethought could have made everyone’s experience less stressful.
First, the screening stations need to be moved farther away from the Hill.
There are four access roads to Parliament Hill, and there were only two entrances. The other two were set aside in case there was a need to evacuate everyone quickly. I can accept that as a theoretical necessity, but I don’t see why the screening of guests had to be done at the base of the Hill.
If they had done the screening several blocks away (and the streets were closed anyway) they could have had more than two screening points and still have left lots of room for any evacuation effort.
Second, someone needs to take responsibility for crowd control.
The security situation was such that not only were the RCMP and PPS out in full force, but so also were the Ottawa Police and Ontario Provincial Police. And that doesn’t count all the private security firms involved. Lots of police, but no-one seems to have figured out how to get people to line up to get where they wanted to go. When I got off the bus, four blocks from Parliament Hill, there was a line of people on the sidewalk. To me it looked like the line might be leading nowhere, so I ignored it.
News reports later in the day said some people had spent three hours in line only to be told it wasn’t the line for the Hill. I think that must have been that line. In the future someone needs to take responsibility for ensure the lines are leading somewhere. Some signs might help. There were no signs anywhere, in either official language, telling people which way they should go to get onto the Hill.
So those are my crowd suggestions for next year. Not that any changes will need to be made. I suspect many of the people who stood in line this year have sworn off the experience for the next decade or longer.
I can’t say that I blame them.