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COMMENT: Citizen publishes bizarre column about ByWard Market

Photo: The ByWard Market in 2019, from atop the Andaz hotel. Photo by Devyn Barrie.

The Ottawa Citizen published a really strange op-ed by a Kerry-Lynne Wilson about the ByWard Market over the weekend that left quite a few people upset and, perhaps, confused.

For an explanation of why, you get a pretty decent sense of the topics the article covers in the deck under the headline: “Once down on Rideau Street, I am accosted by panhandlers, or screamed at by the mentally ill.” Oh boy.

I don’t want to dignify this piece by quoting from it too much, and I will only link to it in case readers care to see it for themselves. I will definitely say it’s a pretty bad article for more than one reason.

The main reason is the narrow-mindedness the author demonstrates. She shows no empathy or caring for the people she talks about, and her only concern seems to be that the misfortune of others has an impact on the pleasantness of her strolls. Secondly, it’s just 600 words of crapping on Ottawa’s most vulnerable residents, without offering a single suggestion or solution for improving the situation. Someone on Twitter suggested the point of the article was just Wilson trying to say she wishes she didn’t have to personally witness poverty. There is zero intelligent discussion in the whole piece, which is what makes it such a surprise to me that the Citizen published it. They likely paid the author for this piece, but I can’t imagine why they thought it was worth printing. There exists a degree of editorial judgment when a newspaper accepts an op-ed, so I am at a loss.

Another reason — and this can only be my own opinion — the article is bordering on hyperbole. The examples Wilson gives are cherrypicked to make downtown Ottawa sound like an unbelievable hellhole. I agree there are areas for improvement, but I’m not sure if this piece gives a fair reflection of what a visit to the ByWard Market actually looks like.

Poverty and homelessness are tough topics to solve but I am pretty sure there are better ways to make progress on them than whatever it was that Wilson had in mind here.


Devyn Barrie

Devyn Barrie is the publisher and editor of OttawaStart.com. He currently studies math and physics at the University of Ottawa, and holds a diploma in journalism from Algonquin College.