After the convoy: advocating for cleaner air

The convoy that occupied downtown Ottawa for three weeks last February called to attention the problem of vehicle idling, as trucks and vans ran for hours spewing massive amounts of carbon dioxide and other noxious gases into the air. Photo: Paulina Pisarek


By Jennifer Humphries

The convoy that occupied downtown Ottawa last February brought to light serious gaps in city policy and practice.

Safe to say that before the occupation, Ottawans rarely thought of motor vehicle idling as a problem. But last winter, trucks and vans ran for hours on end during a three-week period, spewing massive amounts of carbon dioxide and other noxious gases into the air we breathe. Councillors Catherine McKenney and Shawn Menard successfully pushed for an immediate increase in the fine for idling infractions in Centretown and area from $125 to $1,000, and bylaw officers were given the authority to enforce no-idling rules at minus 15°C and above in the occupied zone.

An egregious situation, but thoughtless idling occurs frequently every day across this city.

Even those who care about the environment don’t always remember to turn the key when parked, even when they don’t need the AC or heating. The reflex isn’t built in. Yet for the good of us all, especially kids today and the next generation, we need to turn that mental switch to “off when not moving.”

That’s the message that the Glebe Community Association (GCA) Environment Committee has been sending to city administration. We’ve also been sharing it in the Glebe Report and with teachers and students at local schools. We’ve gotten support from the GCA Transportation Committee and from the parents’ traffic committees at Mutchmor and Corpus Christi schools.

Recently our advocacy at City Hall has led to progress. The GCA banded together with community associations in Centretown, Hintonburg and Vanier to press for an updated anti-idling bylaw including strengthened enforcement. We also urged promotion focused on the health and environmental impacts of thoughtless and unlawful idling. We got support from partner associations in Old Ottawa South and Old Ottawa East and from councillors Menard and McKenney.

On June 21, the City’s Environment Committee accepted a motion from Menard for the new council to conduct a comprehensive review of the idling bylaw after the October 24 election.

While it may not seem like much of a win, it’s a big step forward. Council and staff are at last linking the climate emergency with a daily practice injurious to our air and health, one that we have the power to reduce or even eliminate.

Joan Freeman of the GCA and Paulina Pisarek of the Centretown Community Association made two particular points that caught councillors’ attention. The first is that Ottawa’s anti-idling bylaw is less stringent than that of most large cities in Canada. The second is that fuel costs are high. Stopping or reducing idling saves fuel and money for vehicle owners and the City. When Edmonton brought in and enforced anti-idling policies for its municipal fleet (city vehicles, police and transportation vehicles), it saved the city millions of dollars in fuel costs, to say nothing of the savings in wasted GHG emissions.

Our nine recommendations to the City are here. If you’d like to see our full report as sent to councillors, visit the

Temperature thresholds: Current bylaw: Idling not allowed when outdoor temperatures are between 5° and 27°C. Recommendations: Remove temperature thresholds entirely, or at least widen the threshold so that idling is prohibited for the vast majority of the year. Prohibit idling during all extreme heat or cold events when pollution can be more detrimental to health.

Fine: Current bylaw: Fine amount not specified. Recommendations: Specify the fine amount and set it high enough to deter people from idling. Separate amounts for personal and commercial vehicles.

Time thresholds: Current bylaw: Idling not allowed for more than 3 minutes over a 60-minute period. Recommendation: Do not include a time threshold, or reduce the time threshold to one-minute maximum of idling in a 60-minute period.

Exemptions: Current bylaw: 12 exemptions. Recommendations: Reduce the list of exemptions, such as medical/emergency purposes. Clarify what is not an exemption.

Clearer definitions: Current bylaw: six definitions provided. Recommendations: Add definitions to help differentiate between parking and standing/stopping, layover and stopover, etc. Clarify and expand existing definitions.

Enforcement: Current bylaw: Enforcement not detailed, except to note that the Director of Bylaw and Regulatory Services is responsible for administration. Recommendations: Incorporate citizen enforcement, similarly to New York City. Improve reporting mechanisms/options. Apply fines when required.

Public education: Current bylaw: No mention of public education. Recommendations: Launch an anti-idling campaign. Develop and install signage/reminders. Leverage social media. Incorporate anti-idling considerations in events and contracts.

City vehicles/oc transpo: Current bylaw: “vehicles engaged in providing City services which vehicles shall be subject to the City’s Vehicle and Equipment Idling Policy dated June 2002, Number FS01.” Recommendations: Either update the policy or incorporate city vehicles and OC Transpo into the Idling Control bylaw. Ensure that enforcement of the anti-idling bylaw or policy is happening for city vehicles and OC Transpo. Include anti-idling training for all employees. Coordinate with STO.

Drive-thrus: Current bylaw: No reference to drive-thrus. Recommendations: Do not approve drive-thru services for new fast food/coffee/food retail establishments. Encourage people not to use drive-thrus as part of campaign. Require restaurants with drive-thrus to have a surcharge.

Jennifer Humphries is an active member of the Environment Committee of the Glebe Community Association ( and co-chair of the Glebe Report Association.

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