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Parliament Hill Canada Day festivities soured by tight security

People wait in a security line to enter Parliament Hill during Canada Day celebrations at Parliament Hill.

BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS

Canada's big birthday bash on Parliament Hill was marred by a slow security-screening process that stranded thousands of partygoers in snaking and chaotic lineups.

Fears of terrorism meant there was airport-level security to get on the Hill, with all visitors going through a metal detector and having their bags searched by hand. But the lineups were largely improvised, going up and down Wellington and Bank streets, with members of the public mostly policing themselves.

"People were pushing in and cutting in, coming and going through the lineups. It was mayhem," said Greg Udod of Winnipeg. "We were expecting it to be really well organized, so we were disappointed that crowd control wasn't there."

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Megan McEwen, an engineering student, added: "It was chaos. … I ended up giving up and going home."

The actual celebrations went off without a hitch at the foot of the Peace Tower, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Prince Charles and Irish rock star Bono sang Canada's praises on its 150th birthday. The heavy security could not keep up with the steady flow of visitors, however, leaving many of them frustrated after missing key moments of these historic July 1 celebrations.

"This is really disheartening, seeing everyone walking home," said Ottawa resident Mark Ford, who waited five hours only to arrive after the daytime show had finished.

The level of security went up for Canada Day after a string of attacks in Europe. Authorities cautioned that because of ongoing fears of terrorism, it is nearly impossible to hold major events without affecting the public's access to locations such as Parliament Hill.

"Screening is a necessity in this current environment, to ensure the safety and security," said Melissa Rusk, spokeswoman for the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS). "We were screening people at the rates that we had anticipated from the onset."

A steady rainfall Saturday morning didn't help, as major portions of the lawn on the Hill were flooded. Firefighters were called in to pump out water ahead of the noon show, just as Prince Charles and Governor-General David Johnston arrived on site, which halted screening at a crucial moment.

The Ottawa Police Service said this is a "new era of security" and that the weekend's events will be reviewed to make necessary adjustments in the future.

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"Our main concern was public safety," said Constable Chuck Benoit, who noted the July 1 festivities were peaceful and largely event free.

There were celebrations in other parts of the national capital region where security was looser, such as the Byward Market, Major's Hill Park and the Canadian Museum of History. However, the Hill was the place to go to see the main attractions.

There were 36,000 people for the evening celebrations, which is near full capacity for the location, but only 25,000 for the daytime show, meaning that thousands of visitors missed out.

"We got in line at about 10 o'clock, and by about 12:30, we decided to leave because we were hearing we were in the wrong line," said Steven MacDonald, who blamed police officers for providing misleading information.

In his speech at the daytime event, the Prime Minister celebrated Canada's achievements of the past 150 years, while cautioning that reconciliation with the country's aboriginals is the biggest challenge going forward.

"We share a common pride in that red and white flag," Mr. Trudeau said. "But when we look back at our history, we notice that our past is far from perfect. If many of us are celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary, it's not the case for everybody. For centuries, aboriginal people were victims of oppression, ever since the first explorers congratulated themselves for discovering a New World."

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Bono said he made the quick visit to Ottawa to celebrate Canada's positive influence on the world stage. He dedicated U2's 1991 hit song One to everyone from Indigenous peoples to Syrian immigrants.

"When others build walls, you open doors; when others divide, your arms are open wide; where you lead, others follow. That's the real reason The Edge and myself are here today," he told the crowd.

Video: Trudeau, Bono and Prince Charles take stage for Canada 150 (The Canadian Press)
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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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