by Const. Khoa Hoang
Ottawa Police Service
You haven’t lived in Ottawa until you celebrate Canada Day downtown. Every year our city unites in a massive celebration of our country and everything that makes us Canadian. We are a government town, typically conservative in nature, except on July 1, when streets are closed to vehicular traffic and the music doesn’t stop until the sun rises the following day.
Months before the day, the Office of the Chief of Police sends out a memo to all officers letting them know they are working Canada Day. No excuses; we will need every officer we can get on this day!
For the most part, Canada Day is a great celebration and an opportunity to show off some national pride. But some participants take it too far, some cannot control their alcohol intake, and some simply enjoy causing grief for others. So we ask that our police officers take nothing for granted and stay safe while ensuring the safety of everyone else.
Most Ottawa residents begin their day by finding the right red and white outfit, something that can withstand the rigorous rituals of this type of celebration. A perfect mixture of clothing that is breathable in hot summer weather but flows enough to dance and enjoy a meal on one of our many downtown patios.
There are certainly fewer clothing options available to police officers, who are required to look like walking yellow pylons, easily seen in large crowds. Extra radios are brought in from neighbouring police agencies, and a command centre is set up reminiscent of something from Star Trek, with all the technology available today.
Emergency plans are checked and double checked before the first morning briefing of our emergency response units. Officers and emergency personnel are bussed in to keep downtown available to pedestrians. Several ambulances are strategically placed and arrest transportation vehicles are mobile in closed-off areas.
As the first families make their way to Parliament Hill to enjoy the morning concert, RCMP officers have been securing the Hill in preparation. On the other side of the river, Gatineau Police and their partners have secured the water and bridges that connect our core to Quebec.
The Canadian Military conducts one final check of their equipment as Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives and our downtown command centre is now in full swing, ensuring the safety of well over 100,000 guests attending one of four different celebration locations: downtown, Petrie Island, Kanata, and Barrhaven.
Our police officers go through a mix of emotions throughout Canada Day depending on what they come across. I began my afternoon shift with a photograph alongside a young boy on Wellington Street, followed by a knife fight between two individuals who had too much to drink.
Alcohol interdiction is the key to ensuring overall safety, because the more alcohol we stop people from drinking in the early hours, the fewer problems we’ll have to deal with as the night progresses.
By 10:00 p.m. an estimated 90,000 people have made their way to Parliament Hill to watch the fireworks and thousands more flood onto the streets to catch a glimpse. It’s a beautiful moment as couples, friends, and families are reminded how truly fortunate we are in the Nation’s Capital.
Long after the fireworks end and all the bars have closed, the last police officer leaves our command centre at 5:00 a.m., just in time to see the cleaning trucks take to the streets and maybe enjoy the sun rising during the drive home.
Planning for this event takes a full year but it wasn’t until I became an officer that I appreciated the overwhelming pressures associated with it. I’m proud of the work that everyone does to put this show on year after year for all of our families to enjoy. I’m proud of our officers who ask their families to spend Canada Day without them so that they may spend the day with you.