Charges pending against downtown Wingham restaurant

·4 min read

WINGHAM – Charges are pending against Buck and Jo’s restaurant, according to Huron Perth Public Health (HPPH), after the owner of the business repeatedly and openly defied the current health regulations regarding vaccine passports.

According to the Ontario government website, maximum penalties based on a prosecution under Part I or Part II of the Provincial Offences Act (POA) include fines of up to $100,000 and up to a year in jail for an individual; up to $500,000 and up to a year in prison for an individual who is a director or officer of a corporation; and up to $10 million for a corporation.

Huron-Perth Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Miriam Klassen, issued a Section 22 order against the business on Nov. 5. Still, the owner continued refusing to comply, prompting HPPH to close the indoor dining room.

The order outlines requirements the operator must follow to ensure compliance with Ontario Regulation 364/20 under the Reopening Ontario Act and other recommendations made by Huron Perth Public Health, a press release from HPPH said.

Generally, a business can remain open if it is working to meet the requirements of a Section 22 order.

On Nov. 12, a follow-up visit from HPPH staff has resulted in pending charges to the business, along with directions to close the indoor dining area of the restaurant. However, delivery and takeout options are still permitted and, per legislation, do not require proof of vaccination from patrons.

Stephen Hill, the restaurant owner, met the HPPH staff outside of the business with a crowd of angry supporters on Nov. 12.

Hill repeatedly interrupted the health official, demanding that the HPPH provide volunteers to check vaccine passports at his restaurant, citing lack of staffing and suggesting that looking at his patron’s driver’s license and asking for “personal health information” was a violation of human rights.

Hill opted to close his restaurant entirely, telling the health official, “if you’re not providing the manpower, then we’re closing.”

Instead, Hill opted to open a GoFundMe fundraiser, where he stated the following:

“I’m ‘Buck’, co-owner of Buck & Jo’s in Wingham, along with my wife Joanne of 29 years. All funds raised will be used to help cover costs of closure(s) associated with our stance to protect our rights by refusing to enforce Doug Ford’s denial of service demand a.k.a. vax-pass. We expect to be closed on (or around) Nov. 12 and until mid January 2022 when the vax-pass is set to expire. Buck & Jo’s still has expenses such as property taxes, utilities and loss of inventory, etc. during the closure(s).”

The Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) was established as an arm’s length agency of government in 1961 to prevent discrimination and promote and advance human rights in Ontario. The OHRC is one pillar of Ontario’s human rights system, alongside the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.

Restaurants that serve liquor have been asking for identification for years to prove the age of majority, and there is no section in the Ontario Human Rights Code corroborating Hill’s claim.

A statement on their website states, “the OHRC takes the position that mandating and requiring proof of vaccination to protect people at work or when receiving services is generally permissible under the Human Rights Code (Code) as long as protections are put in place to make sure people who are unable to be vaccinated for Code-related reasons are reasonably accommodated. This applies to all organizations.

“Upholding individual human rights while trying to collectively protect the general public has been a challenge throughout the pandemic. Organizations must attempt to balance the rights of people who have not been vaccinated due to a Code-protected ground, such as disability, while ensuring individual and collective rights to health and safety.”

Klassen said, “In response to the pandemic, the province, through the Reopening Ontario Act has required that all businesses and organizations that are permitted to be open take additional actions to mitigate against COVID-19 transmission.”

“In particular, more than 1,000 food premises (including 290 indoor dining restaurants) in Huron Perth have been working hard under challenging conditions to keep workers and patrons safe,” she said.

“We are grateful to the many operators in our region who continue to work with HPPH in meeting provincial requirements.”

For more information about the provincial requirements, you can visit www.health.gov.on.ca/ to see the Proof of Vaccination Guidance for Businesses and Organizations under the Reopening Ontario Act.

Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times

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