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‘You get a lot of hugs’: Looking for a match at Ottawa’s last stop for lost and stolen stuff

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If you happen to be missing a framed landscape painting, a set of golf clubs, a banjo or a bike — especially a bike — it might be waiting for you to reclaim it at the Ottawa Police Service’s massive warehouse for lost and stolen stuff in the city’s east end.

“We have everything from big toolboxes down to little CDs. Everything you can think of is here in the general warehouse, and there’s even bigger stuff in this building. We do have cars,” said Bill Keeler, manager of the evidence control centre for the Ottawa police.

Are these yours? Evidence control centre manager Bill Keeler shows of tires on rims at the Ottawa police warehouse. (Christine Maki/CBC)

The Swansea Crescent warehouse contains approximately 100,000 items that were either collected at crime scenes or reported abandoned on the street. If an item is considered evidence, it’s kept separate and is not returned to its owner.

For most other items, police will cross-reference a description with robbery reports. If they find a potential match, they’ll make two attempts to contact the owner. If the owner can provide a detailed description and other identifying information such as a serial number, they can come to collect their item.

The warehouse also holds items left behind on OC Transpo buses, and is a final destination for unclaimed luggage from the Ottawa International Airport. Most items are kept for 90 days — or 30 days for bikes.

Recovered bikes get their own room at the warehouse. (Christine Maki/CBC)

Bicycles are among the most commonly recovered items, earning them their own room at the warehouse.

“We get just an insane amount of bikes,” said Jon Rowan, evidence control supervisor at the warehouse. “We’re picking up on average maybe five to six per day.”

Rowan is hopeful a new program called Garage 529, indicated by these yellow stickers, will help reunite more owners with their stolen bikes. (Christine Maki/CBC)

Despite the high number of recovered bikes, police say only around four per cent are ever reunited with their rightful owners because most bike theft victims never bother to fill out a report. Police are hoping a new program called Garage 529, which registers bicycle serial numbers with police and notifies owners if a match is found, will help boost that statistic.

“It’s a great tool. We’ve had a lot of success with it and there’s been great buy-in by the public. It’s something we believe that is here to stay,” Rowan said.

A very costly mistake

Over the years, police have picked up a number of unusual items. On the day CBC visited the warehouse, its inventory included: a banjo, multiple guitars, computers, a large bag of volleyballs, miscellaneous power tools, tires with rims and garden tools. The warehouse also has a special area where guns are kept.

Everything from golf clubs to power tools to banjos line the shelves. (Christine Maki/CBC)

One of the most unusual items was a tombstone from the 1800s, the name engraved on it only partly decipherable. Despite calling local cemeteries, police were never able to find it a final resting place.

They did once return a comforter that was accidentally donated to charity with $10,000 stuffed inside, thanks to identifying receipts that were with the cash.

“So [the owner] was doing some cleaning up and brought it in for donation and didn’t realize until after he left the money in there. Luckily, the people at the charity turned it over to the police and we were able to get it back to the rightful owner. So everybody was very happy on that one,” Keeler said.

Stolen and recovered guns are kept in a secure area of the warehouse, either waiting to be returned to an owner with proper paperwork, or waiting to be destroyed. (Christine Maki/CBC)

Even if an item has no clear financial value, police will still hold onto it for 90 days.

“It could be something that the grandmother had, or a great-grandmother, and they’ve lost it either in a move or something happens, and they want that back,” Keeler said.

Items that aren’t claimed within that window are put up for auction through the Government of Canada’s auction site, GCSurplus, and local company Rideau Auctions.

Jon Rowan says the number of bikes that come through the warehouse is ‘just insane.’ (Christine Maki/CBC)

Many happy returns

Reuniting lost or stolen items with their owners is mostly a positive experience, Rowan said, especially as many never expected to see their things again.

“[I see] all the emotions ranging from joy to tears. I’ve had people tear up getting an older bike that belonged to their mother,” he said.

“People are generally very happy to get their property back, and that’s what we’re trying to do here every day. You get a lot of hugs.”

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Record one million job losses in March: StatCan

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OTTAWA — More than one million Canadians lost their jobs in the month of March, Statistics Canada is reporting. The unemployment rate has also climbed to 7.8 per cent, up from 2.2 percentage points since February.

Canada’s national statistics agency released its monthly Labour Force Survey on Thursday, using March 15 to 21 as the sample week – a time when the government began enforcing strict guidelines around social gatherings and called on non-essential businesses to close up shop.

The first snapshot of job loss since COVID-19 began taking a toll on the Canadian economy shows 1.1 million out of work since the prior sample period and a consequent decrease in the employment rate – the lowest since April 1997. The most job losses occurred in the private sector and among people aged 15-24.

The number of people who were unemployed increased by 413,000, resulting in the largest one-month increase in Canada’s unemployment rate on record and takes the economy back to a state last seen in October, 2010.

“Almost all of the increase in unemployment was due to temporary layoffs, meaning that workers expected to return to their job within six months,” reads the findings.

The agency included three new indicators, on top of the usual criteria, to better reflect the impact of COVID-19 on employment across the country.

The survey, for example, excludes the more commonly observed reasons for absent workers — such as vacation, weather, parental leave or a strike or lockout — to better isolate the pandemic’s effect.

They looked at: people who are employed but were out of a job during the reference week, people who are employed but worked less than half their usual hours, and people who are unemployed but would like a job.

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Employee at Ottawa’s Amazon Fulfillment Centre tests positive for COVID-19

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OTTAWA — An employee who works at Amazon’s fulfillment centre on Boundary Road in Ottawa’s east-end has tested positive for COVID-19.

Amazon says it learned on April 3 that an associate tested positive for novel coronavirus and is currently in isolation. The employee last worked at the fulfillment centre on March 19.

Two employees told CTV News Ottawa that management informed all employees about the positive test in a text message over the weekend.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Amazon spokesperson Jen Crowcroft wrote “we are supporting the individual who is recovering. We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.”

The statement also says that Amazon has taken steps to further protect their employees.

“We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance in the FC.”

CTV News Ottawa asked Amazon about the timeline between when the company found out about the positive COVID-19 case and when employees were notified.

In a separate email to CTV News Ottawa, Crowcroft said “all associates of our Boundary Road fulfillment centre in Ottawa were notified within 24 hours of learning of the positive COVID-19 case.”

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Ottawa facing silent spring as festivals, events cancelled

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This is shaping up to be Ottawa’s silent spring — and summer’s sounding pretty bleak, too — as more and more concerts, festivals and other annual events are cancelled in the wake of measures meant to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The province has already banned gatherings of more than five people, and on Monday officials announced city parks, facilities and services will remain shut down until the end of June, nor will any event permits be issued until at least that time.

“This leaves us with no choice but to cancel the festival this year,” Ottawa Jazz Festival artistic director Petr Cancura confirmed Monday.

This was to be the festival’s 40th anniversary, and organizers announced the lineup for the June 19-July 1 event the day after Ottawa’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. 

The Toronto and Montreal jazz festivals had already pulled the plug because of similar restrictions in their cities, so Cancura said the writing was on the wall.

“We have a few contingency plans to keep connecting with our audience and working with our artists,” Cancura said.

People holding tickets to the 2020 festival can ask for a refund or exchange for a 2021 pass.

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