Street youth oppose plan to fence tunnel



Tim Wieclawski/metro ottawa


Police officers, left, talk with a youth yesterday as pedestrians emerge from the Rideau Street-Colonel By Drive underpass. A city committee is recommending fencing off portions of the tunnel to prevent street youth and others from congregating there.

Some street youth who use a downtown pedestrian tunnel for shelter vowed yesterday they’d tear down any barrier the city may erect.

“We’re going to take it down,” said one man, who identified himself as Steve Spliffman. “A couple of months ago, some guys came to measure and draw chalk lines for the fence. We just messed with them ’til they left.”

Yesterday, a city committee recommended building a $25,000 wrought-iron fence to block portions of the Rideau Street-Colonel By Drive underpass, which is often used as shelter by homeless people and where 21-year-old Steven ‘Cactus’

Beriault — a street youth who was sleeping there — was murdered in 2006.

Spliffman said he’s lived under the bridge intermittently for five years and the area is a meeting place that he and his friends don’t want taken away.

But Ottawa Police Staff-Sgt. Paul Johnston said “squatters” — some of whom use the area for illicit activity — have claimed the area.

“A fence will define that space and … will help eliminate inappropriate behaviour,” he said.

Police have spent $22,000 on top of regular patrols to monitor the tunnel, while the city has spent $50,000 this year sending crews to clean it.

University of Ottawa student Rebecca White, walking in the area yesterday, said the underpass doesn’t worry her during the day, but nighttime is a different matter. “It’s pretty sketchy there,” she said.

Poverty activist Jane Scharf told the committee that a fence would be interpreted as a strong-armed approach to dealing with homelessness, and she argued that a barrier there in 2006 would not have prevented Beriault’s murder.

“Cactus and the man who murdered him would have been under some other bridge … and he would have been in the same situation,” she said.


  • The plan also calls for brighter lighting to be installed in the tunnel.