House of Commons set to welcome back public, lift COVID-19 ban on visitors

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OTTAWA — The House of Commons will next week lift a ban on public visits, introduced more than two years ago to stem the spread of COVID-19.

The Commons chamber's public gallery will reopen on Monday, allowing people to once again watch MPs' debates in person.

The public will also be able to watch committees where MPs discuss a variety of issues including health and Indigenous affairs.

Next month, guided tours of the House of Commons will also restart for the first time since March 2020.

"Speaker (Anthony) Rota is very pleased that the doors to the galleries of the House of Commons and committees are once again open to the public," said Heather Bradley, the Speaker's communications director.

Visitors will have to wear masks and show they are vaccinated against COVID-19 to visit Parliament under rules imposed by the board of internal economy, an all-party committee of MPs that administers the Commons.

Senators were sent an email on March 18 from the office of George Furey, the Senate Speaker, saying the general public would be allowed back to its galleries next week.

"General public access to the Senate galleries will be reinstated in the week of April 25, 2022, and guided public tours are anticipated to resume in the week of May 16, 2022," the email said.

However, a spokesman for the Senate said Thursday it would "not be reinstating general public access at this time."

"Discussions are currently ongoing, and any official decision taken with respect to public access to the Senate precinct will be communicated through appropriate channels in due course," said Ross Ryan, Senate spokesman.

The Senate Speaker's email, entitled "Visitor and Guest Access to the Senate," also said guests of Senators would again be able to visit starting on March 21.

On March 13, 2020, the board of internal economy decided to close visitor access to the House of Commons precinct and cancel public tours "as a preventive measure" against the spread of COVID-19.

The board also cancelled all Parliamentary events and functions held in the House of Commons.

MPs return to Ottawa next week after a two-week break. They have voted to continue conducting Commons business in a hybrid format — also introduced to help curb the spread of COVID-19 — with some MPs attending debates and committees in person and others virtually.

Visitors to Ottawa's Parliamentary precinct will find much of it still closed, including the historic Centre Block building, which is being refurbished.

Decorative tarps depicting an image of the Centre Block are to be draped around the historic building this spring to conceal construction and protect workers from the elements.

The "trompe l'oeil" tarps will show the Peace Tower clock set at 11:45 a.m., the precise start time of the 1927 ceremony inaugurating the tower.

MPs are based in a building called the West Block, which has already been restored. It includes a debating chamber with an accessible visitors' gallery.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2022.

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

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