Consequences coming for Vancouver restaurants defying public health orders

Businesses putting staff and patrons at risk by remaining open in defiance of COVID-19 rules will face consequences, British Columbia’s public safety minister said Sunday as the province works to bring surging infections under control.

The warning from Mike Farnworth comes after at least two Vancouver restaurants flouted restrictions by serving patrons indoors.

“Harassment of enforcement officials will not be tolerated, and closure orders by Vancouver Coastal Health or any other health authority must be respected,” Farnworth said in a statement.

“There most certainly will be consequences for those openly ignoring and defying orders that are intended to keep British Columbians safe.”

The COVID-19 provincial public health order that bans indoor dining runs until April 19.

Under the government’s new restrictions announced earlier this week, restaurants can only serve patrons on patios or takeout. Both Gusto restaurant in Olympic Village and Corduroy in Kitsilano have indicated they will remain open to serve customers.

Anyone hosting a non-compliant event can currently be issued a violation ticket of $2,300, while individuals face a $575 fine.

Federico Fuoco, owner of Gusto.
Federico Fuoco, owner of Gusto. PHOTO BY FRANCIS GEORGIAN /PNG

Gusto restaurant owner Federico Fuoco, who already had to close one of his restaurants because of the pandemic, says these restrictions will be the “final nail in the coffin” for small business owners.

He says it’s unfair that people are still allowed to cram into malls, eat on ferries, or shop at busy mega-stores like Costco and Walmart. He also questioned why the government is allowing indoor wine tasting to continue.

“Why just our industry? If it was a blanket policy, at least that would be fair. If there are outbreaks, like at the poultry factories, then you isolate that one. But to punish one industry to me, it is discriminatory,” said Fuoco.

On Friday, Fuoco said he would continue to serve people indoors in defiance of the order to take a stand against the “unfair” measures hurting small restaurants. Vancouver Coastal Health confirmed Saturday that it has issued a closure order to the Salt Street restaurant.

Fuoco said Saturday morning that he is trying to get VCH to lift the order, but he will abide by it for now.

“This order should be lifted immediately. If you are restricting us, you should restrict everybody.”

Fuoco, who is also a Non-Partisan Association board member, said he installed Plexiglas dividers and hand-sanitizing stations and insists he has been following all social distancing rules. He said the expense has become too much for restaurants and he fears many will go under.

“Restaurants struggle in the best of times when there isn’t a pandemic. Plexiglas is at a premium. It’s like buying gold right now,” he said.

Fuoco added that on a day when it’s raining, there are no customers who want to sit outside.

“Restaurants are worried that come April 19 the order will be extended, and if that’s the case wait and see how many restaurants will close. They will not be able to weather this. What are people supposed to do if they don’t have a patio? They can’t survive on takeout alone.”

Meantime, in a video posted to Instagram Friday, Rebecca Matthews, owner of Corduroy, tells a crowd of anti-maskers that their restaurant is “officially open.”

In her speech, Matthews rails against the government for closing indoor seating, says she distrusts the media, and questions whether the data on the COVID numbers is accurate.

“The cure cannot be worse than the cause, and it’s time to open up our doors,” she said.

At Corduroy Saturday, a sign was posted on the front door claiming sovereign citizen rights. So-called sovereign citizens believe they are exempt from government rules and only follow their particular interpretations of the common law. Some don’t pay their taxes. However, they are not exempt from the law and can face criminal charges and even prison.

Four years ago, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Murray Blok said these argumentshave never been successful in any court and called them “sheer and utter nonsense.”

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