Former Ottawa police chief warns of safety risk if Wellington Street opens to vehicles

A former Ottawa police chief calls for Wellington Street to be permanently closed to vehicle access, warning there is a ‘high risk of a catastrophic event’ if vehicles can continue to access the road in front of Parliament Hill.

Senator Vern White made the comment during an appearance before the House of Commons Procedure and Affairs Committee which is considering expanding federal jurisdiction over Parliamentary Precinct security to include Wellington Street and the Sparks Street.

White was chief of the Ottawa Police Service from 2007 to 2012. The senator says that while there have been many changes to direct security on Parliament Hill, there has been “little or no change at the security footprint on Wellington Street.

“The stark reality is that an explosion like the one seen in Oklahoma City, where more than 300 buildings were damaged or destroyed and 168 people killed, could very well happen here, if we maintain a lax sense of security on Wellington Street and continue to allow vehicular access directly in front of the precinct buildings and, equally important, the Langevin Block,” White said Thursday.

White said that while many would say the 1995 explosion in Oklahoma City would only happen in the United States, Toronto Terrorism Case 18 plotted a series of attacks on targets in southern ‘Ontario.

“As long as vehicles have direct access to this location, we run the risk of large vehicles being used to deliver explosives, and therefore we run a high risk of a catastrophic event occurring on Wellington Street.”

White recommended closing Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill and Elgin Street on the west side of the National War Memorial to vehicles to increase security and reduce possible threats.

“The best method of immediately mitigating the threat of such an event on Wellington Street is to remove all vehicular access from Wellington Street and the section of Elgin that runs alongside Langevin, allowing a buffer zone to be pushed south at the less up to Sparks and maybe beyond,” White said.

“It would have an immediate impact and reduce the severity of this threat.”

White told the committee he spoke to Ottawa City Council in 2014 about the closure of Wellington Street to vehicular traffic following the cape’s shooting death. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial.

“I think it’s a high risk location and I think the fact that we continue to allow large vehicles to use this road has been a problem for us,” White said.

“That will mitigate some of that threat, and I think until we do that, we’ll have a continued risk there.”

White appeared before the committee alongside former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly, who agreed Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill should be closed to vehicles.

Sloly recommended MPs consider changes to the “physical environment” of the area to improve security in the Parliamentary Precinct.

“This could include boundary changes, closing roads to create a pedestrian mall, installing bollards and other barriers to limit vehicle access,” Sloly said, calling it “crime prevention. by environmental design”.

The Ottawa Police Service is the police force having jurisdiction for the Parliamentary Precinct.

Martin E. Berry