Wingham restaurant closed for defying vaccine passport mandate
As a crowd of cellphone-carrying supporters watched, Stephen Hill stood on the front steps of his restaurant, having a heated discussion with inspectors from the Huron Perth Health Unit.
“You need to stop the indoor dining, but you can still operate as take-out. We’re not shutting you down,” said the health unit inspector.
“We’re not doing segregation here,” responded Hill, who owns and operates Buck and Jo’s Restaurant in downtown Wingham, with his wife.
He says he’d rather see his restaurant close than enforce the province’s vaccine passport mandate.
“It’s two fold. One, I seriously believe it’s a rights violation. Two, we don’t have the manpower,” Hill explained.
Buck and Jo’s was issued a Section 22 order by the health unit on Nov. 5 to start checking patron’s vaccine status before entering their restaurant for dine-in purposes. Hill has been openly defying that order and Friday the health unit came by to close down his dining room.
“If they want the vaccine passport mandate enforced, they’re going to have to send the manpower. We can get the volunteers if they want if they provide the training. If they don’t do that we can’t stay open because we can’t comply. It’s that simple,” said Hill.
Huron-Perth’s Medical Officer of Health says of the 290 indoor dining restaurants in the two counties, Buck and Jo’s is the only one they’ve had to close down due to COVID-19 regulation defiance.
“In some of these non-essential settings, we can make them safer by requiring proof of vaccination. Then we know that the risk of transmission there and the risk of that leading to cases in other settings decreases,” said Dr. Miriam Klassen.
Not good enough, according to the 50 or so supporters that turned up at Buck and Jo’s Friday morning, including a business owner from Guelph, who is also not enforcing the province’s vaccine passport program.
“I will not ask any of my customers when they come in that I want to see their passport, and I want to see this that and the other. We have no right to even be asking. We are not political custodians,” said Jay Oliver.
“We have to worry about our rights,” said Shelly Gamble. “Do you think once they’re gone, that they’ll give them back to us? They won’t.”A sign posted at Buck and Jo's Restaurant in Wingham, Ont., Nov. 12, 2021. (Scott Miller / CTV News)
“The government is essentially forcing the business people to their gestapo [secret police],” said Dennis Valenta.
During a recent enforcement blitz, Dr. Klassen says 94 per cent of North Huron businesses were complying with COVID regulations.
“We are very grateful to the many operators in our region who are working with us to meet provincial requirements. These requirements keep patrons, employees and the larger community safe,” she said.Charges are pending against Buck and Jo’s, according to the health unit.
Hill said he hopes to reopen sometime in January when the province suggests they may lift the requirement for vaccine passports to be shown at restaurants and other non-essential settings.
“They’re comfortable falling asleep saying, ‘I’m just following orders.’ I’m not. They want to come stand on the corner and yell at people to ‘show me your papers,’ they’re welcome to do it, but we’re not doing it,” said Hill.