I just watched a truly disheartening and frightening CTV W-Five episode covering a subject that is often not discussed – far less so by the Federal ministers on Parliament Hill just blocks from one of the worst drug, prostitution and homelessness problems anywhere in the nation. None of them, including Public Security Minister Stockwell Day, accepted to meet with CTV W-5 saying they were “too busy”…

They hounded the Premier of Ontario, but he also brushed off a reporter and hustled into a building…

Personally, I am not surprised by this report. I’ve been to Ottawa many times over the last 20-25 years; my ex-wife and much of her family were from there, as was my late stepfather.

In January 2008 I began a series of about a ½ dozen business trips, one every month or so, to the National Capital Region and usually stayed in hotels in the Downtown, or Byward Market area. The Byward Market is a charming 3-4 square block neighbourhood which, by day is a nice selection of multicultural restaurants and farmer market type stands. It’s next to one of the largest shopping centre’s in the Ottawa metropolitan area; the Rideau Centre Shopping Centre.

Now being a Montrealer, I like to explore a city’s nightlife and evening culture – we have a massive choice of cafés, lounges, showbars and nightclubs in Montreal – around the market.

A few of the times I stayed in hotels (including the Econolodge and Marriott Courtyard Inn) near the Byward Market. Those are both nice hotels; granted the Econo Lodge Downtown at 475 Rideau street is pretty much no-frills motor inn more than hotel with rooms straight onto an inside parking lot that is directly onto Rideau street across from a 7-11 and in the vicinity of churches, residential homes and … well a little pic of the Econolodge :

Econo Lodge Downtown Ottawa at 475 Rideau Street

What struck me most the first time was the number of vagrants, obviously mentally ill homeless people, drug users, congregating around the many missions and shelters in that area. It struck me as so “un-Ottawa like” which has always had a relatively pristine reputation of being a clean, if stoic, family town.

The name of the CTV W-Five episode is Capital Shame and was originally aired this spring I believe… and one revealing quote:

“One of my officers who emailed — I think at 1:54 in the morning,” recalls Police Chief Vernon White. “He said that’s he’s done, he doesn’t know what to do anymore after he drove around for a couple of hours with a prostitute who said she wanted help and he could not get her help and dropped her off at the same corner. I mean, I’ll tell you the frustration in that email — I think is what you hear in our officer’s voices everyday.”

I mentioned nothing to my business colleagues while I was there (doing IT training and coaching sessions)… but by the third trip I jokingly mentioned that I was staying in a neighbourhood that seemed “err” a bit “ghetto ish”…

I got quiet understanding nods of agreement, and people telling me that Ottawa (especially the downtown area near the market) has built up a critical problem.

Taxi drivers, with whom I enjoy exchanging the “real deal” with whenever I travel, confirmed that pretty much every night, 50% or more of people on the streets after 9pm were in some sort of serious trouble (mental, physical health, homeless, male/female prostitutes, drug addicted, or all of the above)….

This is obviously not ALL what Ottawa is about, but it’s more than a tragic reality that literally overruns the area around the Market. I have never seen such a high density of depraved and desperate souls in Montreal in the 32+ years I’ve lived around here.

I think the only Canadian city that may compare is Vancouver in certain spots?

But this is in the capital of our great country – less than 1-2 blocks from the Parliament Buildings?

Pleaselet’s not let Ottawa become Washington, D.C. …

See the entire CTV W-Five episode Capital Shame online (about 20 minutes playing time)

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