Focus on inspecting big box stores, say Ottawa's small businesses

·2 min read

Local businesses in Ottawa say they welcome provincial inspections of COVID-19 prevention protocols, but think the focus should remain on big box stores.

An enforcement blitz in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas has uncovered numerous violations of those protocols at big box retailers, including failing to wear masks and ignoring physical distancing guidelines.

During the first wave of the blitz, inspectors found only 70 per cent of sites they visited were adhering to the public health measures intended to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Now similar inspections will be coming to the Ottawa area, focusing in on big box stores, but also other retailers, restaurants open for takeout and gas stations.

Province should 'double down' on bigger stores

"It is infuriating as a small business owner," said Karla Briones of the inspection results so far.

Briones, who runs a number of franchises in Ottawa including Global Pet Foods and a Freshii restaurant, said she welcomes an inspection for COVID-19 violations but thinks the province should continue focusing on the biggest culprits.

"Instead of going down to small business owners where we actually take care of our staff, we actually care about our customers, to double down on those big box retailers," said Briones.


Mark Kaluski, chair of the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Area, said his members also welcome an inspection, but the news about the crackdown comes as cold comfort to the small businesses that followed the rules and yet have been forced to close.

Meanwhile big box stores have been allowed to remain open during the provincewide stay-at-home order.

"You would think, given that they've been given this unchecked ability to sell as much as they want to, the very least they could do is be following the rules," Kaluski said.

Blitz to focus on big box stores this weekend

The province's Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said inspections have already been happening in the Ottawa area, but inspectors will be sweeping through big box stores this weekend.

"I feel for them," said McNaughton about small businesses. "COVID-19 has clearly impacted so many families and small businesses here in Ontario. The sooner we get through this, the sooner we can get our numbers down, the sooner we can reopen."

A spokesperson for the department said there have been 241 orders issued during COVID-19-related visits in the Ottawa area since the lockdown began.