Street musician bagpiper sings the blues about speeding tickets for polluting a roadway

Nico Gravel, 39, was ticketed for the second time by the Ottawa Ordinance on Sunday night when he performed on Booth Street between Wellington Street and Albert Street.

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An Ottawa busker claims the city government is unfairly trying to silence the whirl of his bagpipes that for years has greeted Bluesfest-goers on their way to the LeBreton Flats.

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Nico Gravel, 39, was ticketed for the second time by the Ottawa Ordinance on Sunday night when he performed on Booth Street between Wellington Street and Albert Street. The street was closed to traffic at this time to allow for easier pedestrian access to the Bluesfest venue.

Gravel said he had been performing for 15 minutes when a law officer approached him and issued him a ticket at around 8:45 p.m. The same officer issued him a ticket on Saturday night.

His two tickets — both for one-lane debiting — total $2,260.

The law enforcement officer told him to leave the area, and Gravel complied instead of involving the police.

“I don’t know if they’re targeting me because it’s a set of bagpipes or something,” said Gravel, who has launched a GoFundMe campaign to fight the tickets in court and make up for lost earnings. It has already raised more than $1,400.

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“I’m not sure what their point of view is here, but these are hefty fines,” he said. “I don’t know where that came from. I think there might be a certain statute officer who might not be a big fan of the bagpipes.”

Gravel said he was told by friends that several buskers performed in the same area later Sunday night without incident.

He wants to fight the speeding tickets in court: “Of course there has to be some kind of reform of the system. When these kinds of tickets are issued, is it unacceptable: a thousand-dollar ticket for playing music on the street? It just doesn’t make sense.”

Truckers who defied the city’s order to clear the city earlier this year faced the same fine, Gravel noted, adding, “I’m a busker, not a trucker.”

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The city of Ottawa says busking is allowed on private property but not on city streets.

Roger Chapman, the city’s director of bylaws and regulatory services, said Gravel was told on July 7 that he was not permitted to perform on Booth Street. “One of the concerns was the fact that they were placed on the roadway, which could pose a hazard should an emergency vehicle need to access the area,” he said.

Two days later, the same bylaws officer saw the same musician at the same location, Chapman said, and was issued a ticket after refusing to comply with the bylaws officer’s verbal warning.

On Sunday, bylaw officials again saw Gravel playing music on the Booth Street Bridge. Those officers issued another ticket, but it was also made clear that if he left the area, the ticket would not be filed with the court, Chapman said.

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Because Gravel had left the scene, the second ticket was not filed with the State Criminal Court, he said.

Law officials have not filed any further charges for busking at the Bluesfest this week.

Gravel said he hopes the situation can be ironed out quickly so he can return to Bluesfest to play ahead of Friday’s Rage Against The Machine concert.

The money he earns, Gravel says, goes towards the cost of his part-time degree in osteopathic medicine at the College of Osteopathic Studies in Montreal.

Gravel has played the bagpipes since he was 13 and has performed internationally with several bands including the Ottawa Police Pipe Band. A professional musician, he plays weddings, funerals and ceremonies of all kinds. He is also a licensed massage therapist.

“It’s instinctive for me,” he says of the bagpipes. “I grew up with that.”

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