Local business leaders unite in legal challenge of Provincial pandemic protocol violations: (from left to right) Lindsay MacCaskill, 782 Taphouse owner, Joanna Cortese, of 782 Taphouse, Brent Noels, Pierside Pub owner; Ellen Lacroix, Edible Journey owner; Rob Lampman and Terrie Collard, Two Forks co-owners.

 

Businesses ticketed for Provincial pandemic protocol violations in last weekend’s enforcement blitz vowed last night to challenge the fines in court.

About 40 people – including business owners from Port Stanley and St. Thomas – railed against the fines at a meeting hosted by Brent Noels, proprietor at The Pierside Pub, 158 William Street.

Owner after owner said the fines seem grossly unfair considering the time and money they’ve already committed to compliance with a battery of pandemic protocols designed to protect customers and employees.

To be clear, the meeting was not an anti-mask rally. In fact, one anti-mask supporter was asked to stand down.

“This isn’t about the mask,” said Michael Fairweather, proprietor at Drift, a Port Stanley furniture manufacturer. “This is about the fines. We’re fighting the tickets. This isn’t a rally for anti-masking. It’s about small businesses trying to survive.”

Earlier in the day, Megan Cornwell, Communications Manager at Southwestern Public Health (SWPH), confirmed that 21 Provincial Offences Officers swept through Elgin and Oxford counties, as well as the City of St. Thomas, on December 9 and 10, 2021.

The officers were enforcing the Reopen Ontario Act, visiting about 146 businesses. They provided “education and support” in some cases, issued warnings in other cases, and wrote tickets in still others. Cornwell said the Provincial officers have not yet confirmed the number of tickets issued. A full report is expected at a later date.

“I’m very upset,” said Rob Burns, owner of the Port Stanley Foodland, at 291 Colborne Street.

In recent months, Burns has experienced five inspections by Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, as well as four inspections by the Ministry of Health.

“I thought I was totally up to date,” added Burns. Yet he was issued a ticket and fined $1,130 on Saturday. The Foodland is affiliated with the Sobeys supermarket chain and Burns has referred the ticket to Sobeys’ legal team for review. “I’m with you,” he said to the crowd. “I feel for all of us. I’m in your corner.”

After more than an hour of angry testimonials, business owners found solace in numbers, and agreed to proceed with individual legal challenges.

“Nobody should pay the fine,” said Adam MacLeod, owner of the Port Stanley Home Hardware, 298 Bridge Street. MacLeod said Home Hardware is still in the process of reassembling its front façade after recent renovations, however, the store was ticketed because Provincial Offences Officers weren’t satisfied with the amount of pandemic information on display.

“We’re all in agreement,” added Noels. “We’re going to fight these tickets.

“In this town, in the winter, you don’t make any money,” said Noels. “Getting this ticket now is a kick in the (pants).”

None of the community’s political leaders attended the meeting.

When approached by the Beacon, a statement was provided earlier in the day by Jeff Yurek, Member of Provincial Parliament for Elgin-Middlesex-London. 

“On being made aware of the fines issued at local businesses in Port Stanley over the weekend, I immediately reached out to the Minister of Labour for clarification on enforcement authority regarding legislated COVID-19 measures for businesses,” Yurek said in the statement. “I believe that targeted enforcement blitzes should be focused on big box stores and large indoor sporting events, leaving regular enforcement to other businesses.

“Unfortunately, Members of Provincial Parliament are not able to intervene in enforcement matters, but I can clarify the validity of the tickets and address concerns regarding professionalism and conduct of ministry staff,” added Yurek.. “Operators are advised to also seek legal counsel.”

 

More North Shore Beacon coverage of the enforcement blitz.