By Matt Sitler
Is the OPP’s marine unit harassing boaters in Muskoka by stopping and checking on them too frequently?
A local politician has raised this question and has asked people to document instances of it with photos.
In a June 30th Facebook post on her ‘Ledger, TML Councillor Ward C’ public group page, Terry Ledger stated that it has been brought to her attention by many people and even from her own experience, that the OPP seem to be harassing people on the water.
“Yes, I say harassing because it seems that every time you go out in a boat, you get pulled over,” she wrote.
Further on in the post she added: “I have decided to try and document this and I need your help. If you get stopped in your boat, please take a picture and post it with #oppeevedinmuskoka”
We reached out to Ledger for further comment and she provided us with a statement, clarifying that: “Nobody has issues with the job the OPP does on the water, it is the frequency with which they do it that is having a negative impact on the peaceful, leisure time people enjoy on our waters.”
It’s a complaint from some boaters that’s being made more and more, especially during Muskoka’s busy summer months, but Bracebridge OPP Inspector Ed Medved doesn’t agree.
“To say that we are harassing the public is not true,” he says. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We’re out there engaging the public and encouraging them and educating them with respect to safe boating practices.”
Asked about the frequency of vessel stops made by OPP Marine patrol officers, Medved admitted some people can get stopped twice or more by ongoing patrols.
“Do we, on occasion, stop a vessel more than once or twice during the course of a summer season?,” he asks. “Yes, of course we do and that’s going to happen. Why? It’s because we are out there doing what the public expects us to do. I know we have a great deal of support with respect to our activities everywhere including local cottage associations and (other politicians).”
Medved says the Marine Unit adjusts its approach year to year and that the operation is largely resource dependant.
“I’d actually like to do more, frankly, because there’s some areas of the jurisdiction that don’t get covered off as well as I’d like,” he said. “The real story is we are being more strategic about the deployment of our resources. We’re going to problem areas versus generalized patrol. It’s data driven and intelligence led in terms of where we end up sending our vessels and officers in terms of engaging and educating the public about the safe way to boat.”
Medved says people would be shocked to hear and know some of the stories that marine unit operators return to the office with at the end of some shifts, stories he says, that involve people either making mostly poor choices or being ignorant about required safety features and other facets of boating.
“We’re not in the harassment business, we’re in the public engagement and mobilization business,” he says. “The traffic to and through Muskoka is significant (during summer), so we have to pay attention to this. We’ve had a number of mishaps and tragedies over the years – in fact, most recently today (June 4th) a young boy was injured innocently while out with his family on a personal watercraft. So it’s important for us to be out there from a public safety perspective.”
Some local OPP marine patrol facts:
– In 2015, the OPP marine unit checked 2,657 boats in the Bracebridge OPP detachment jurisdiction. (Muskoka Lakes, Georgian Bay, Bracebridge and Gravenhurst)
– In addition, they did 131 cottage checks and accomplished 1,093 patrol hours
– In 2015 the marine unit conducted 16 alcohol screening device tests, checking on the sobriety of operators and only charged two people for impaired boating.
– In 2015 the marine unit laid 122 liquor infraction charges involving passengers on vessels and 12 other drug related charges.
– In 2015 the marine unit laid 223 marine related charges the bulk of which involved operators and passengers not having the right safety equipment.
“Two things we have zero tolerance for is open alcohol and consumption of alcohol on vessels and the lack of personal floatation devices,” says Medved.
But others, like Ledger (above), still feel the marine unit stops are happening too often.
“The issue is the amount of times people are stopped,” wrote the councillor in a reply on another of her group page posts. “If the frequency of being stopped in a car were the same, it would be ridiculous. People are getting stopped weekly but only go out a couple times a week. That’s just crazy.”
(Photo of Ledger via the township of Muskoka Lakes website, photo of OPP stopping boaters via ‘Ledger, TML Councillor Ward C’ public group FB page)