Pubdate: Fri, 13 Jul 2007
Source: Toronto Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007, Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Christina Blizzard


Canada's capital city is a national disgrace.

That's the only conclusion I can come to after visiting my son, who
attends university in Ottawa.

It used to be a joy to visit that city, with its great galleries,
museums and lovely restaurants. But the place has gone downhill
rapidly over the past three years.

The city's downtown core is infested with crack addicts. At an
intersection just a few blocks from Canada's beautiful Parliament
buildings, I saw dozens of drug deals happening in broad daylight. I
saw countless people sitting around smoking crack.

We had dinner at a posh restaurant in the trendy Byward Market. It was
a beautiful evening, so we sat out on the patio. Imagine our shock
when numerous addicts interrupted our meal, begging for cash.

The city has a big push for tourists on right now, with advertising
campaigns offering a special -- stay two nights and you get the third
one at half price. Only problem is, I can't imagine anyone wanting to
spend more than one night in this place if you didn't have to.

I understand that not all of Ottawa is a disgrace. But downtown Rideau
St. is an urban wasteland.

I watched as dealers came and went with absolute impunity. Cops, you
sense, were doing their best. I saw cruisers, unmarked cars and even
two officers on bikes patrol the area frequently. But they can't be
everywhere at once. And there's only so much they can do. They made no
arrests that I saw, and within minutes of them departing the area, the
creeps were back selling their evil commodities.

Their clientele was mixed. Sure, there were the people you'd expect --
the shuffling down-and-out addicts and twitching hookers. But we also
saw at least one well-dressed preppy suburban-type kid in Dockers and
loafers. The only thing they all had in common was their pathetic
dependence on an illegal substance and a willingness to do anything to
get it.

I am not naive about drug use. My husband and I have travelled
extensively in Europe and the U.S., and neither of us could think of
another city where we had seen addicts and dealers operating so
brazenly. The only other place I have seen drugs used so openly was a
heroin addict I saw shooting up on a sidewalk in Frankfurt about 12
years ago.

I've visited other big cities -- New York; Boston; London, England,
and yet I can't think of another one in which I have felt as unsafe as
I did walking around Ottawa's main intersections.

And I'm not foolish enough to think Toronto doesn't have a problem
with drug dealing as well. But it doesn't happen downtown, in the
heart of the tourist area.

You have to wonder how legitimate businesses in downtown Ottawa cope.
We stayed at a very elegant bed and breakfast in the area. A neighbour
told my husband that cops do their best, but the dealers work in
pairs, with one selling and the other holding the illicit stash, so
it's hard to catch them. A block away from the smart B&B, in broad
daylight, I saw a man urinating publicly against an apartment wall.

You can't help thinking Ottawa is fast becoming a cesspool -- a
national capital that is a blight on the country.

Even when they are caught, I suspect the cream puff sentences our
courts hand out put these dealers back on the streets with a slap on
the wrist. What other reason can there be for such brazen illegal activity?

It seems to me rest of the country likes to take pot shots at Toronto
as a violent city. And, sure, we have our problems. But perhaps they
should be looking more carefully at some of our other cities. People
in glass houses shouldn't get stoned.

What is truly shocking is that Ottawa has more politicians per square
metre than any other city in the country. Yet no one seems to notice
this disgrace. A nation's capital, with its embassies and high
commissions and trade delegations, is supposed to be a vibrant,
cosmopolitan place that impresses visitors from around the world. No
one seems to notice that our capital is seedy and run down -- and
rotting at the core.
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MAP posted-by: Derek