OTTAWA — Public inconvenience and traffic flow — not the rights of protesters — were the deciding factors when a federal agency approved a visiting Chinese delegation's request for a privacy fence outside an Ottawa hotel.
The Chinese asked the Westin hotel for the tall fence along the length of the building's entrance during Premier Li Keqiang's visit in September.
The temporary wall shielded the more than 100 delegation members staying at the hotel from demonstrators across the street.
Chinese supporters rally as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visits Parliament Hill on Sept. 22, 2016. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)
The Westin asked the National Capital Commission, the agency that oversees federal lands in Ottawa, for approval before putting up the fence because the roadway outside the hotel is part of a ceremonial route from the airport to Parliament Hill, newly disclosed documents show.
The request "met the requirements for approval" by the NCC, say the records tabled in Parliament in response to a question from Conservative MP Tom Kmiec.
In granting the request, the NCC considered whether the wall would unduly affect the look and feel of the capital, in keeping with the agency's statutory mandate, said NCC spokesman Jean Wolff.
A matter of 'pedestrian traffic'
"It was a matter of pedestrian traffic, motor vehicle traffic, other type of obstructions and what sort of signage or motifs would be on (the fence)," he said.
The visibility of protesters who object to Beijing's policies did not come into play, he added.
"That was not part of the decision-making at the NCC. We had this application, we processed the application within our mandate and our practices, and that was it."
The Chinese delegation "didn't give any particular reason" for wanting the fence, so the hotel doesn't know if the purpose was to block the demonstrators from view, said Ross Meredith, the Westin's general manager.
"We didn't ask about that or have awareness of that."
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stick handles the puck away from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they sport Montreal Canadiens jerseys on Sept. 23, 2016 in Montreal. (Photo: Paul Chiasson/CP)
A representative of China's embassy in Ottawa did not immediately respond to questions.
Kmiec, the Conservative deputy critic for foreign affairs, said the wall would be reasonable if built for security purposes. "If it's just to avoid embarrassment and if it's just to avoid seeing people protest or speak their minds and express themselves, then I have a problem with that."
While the NCC provided an answer to one element of his multi-part query about the wall, other federal agencies have not addressed aspects, such as whether there was any communication between the Canadian government and the Chinese about the fence.
Kmiec said he hopes a supplementary response will be tabled in Parliament, because he still wants answers.
"Is the Chinese government getting special treatment?"