Halifax-area diner investigated after owner rails online against mask-wearers

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Health inspectors were expected to pay a visit to a Halifax-area diner Friday after the restaurant came under fire from hundreds of Facebook users for its blunt stance on pandemic regulations.

John Giannakos, the owner of Hellas Restaurant in Lower Sackville, is taking issue with public health restrictions that he believes are unhealthy, including asking his staff to wear masks for long periods of time.

Speaking to CBC News, he said his staff wear bandanas while serving customers but take them off when there are no customers in the restaurant.

"One thing I do not condone is my staff being told to wear a mask for eight hours straight," he said. "That's not going to happen for health reasons, for our health reasons."

Online post catches attention of Dr. Strang

Giannakos's post on the eatery's Facebook page Friday thanking people for the "greatest free publicity" has garnered around 1,000 comments, mostly negative.

He dismissed the concerns of customers and other people, referring to them in the post as "sheeple" and warning that "breathing your CO2 in your lungs is unhealthy."

His comments on Facebook were brought to the attention of chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, at Friday's daily briefing.

Strang said he was aware of the matter and said occupational health and safety inspectors were being sent to the restaurant Friday.

"If we become aware of blatant disobedience, we'll act very swiftly," he said.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press
Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Restaurants in the Halifax area were allowed to reopen to dine-in service earlier this week after being forced to shut down at the end of December amid rising COVID-19 cases in the region.

Barbara MacLean, a government spokesperson, confirmed in an email to CBC News that inspectors were being sent to the restaurant to ensure compliance with provincial health regulations.

"If a business is unwilling to come into compliance, there are a range of options for penalties such as warnings, fines (summary offence tickets), or the possible shutdown of the business," she said.

That's not fazing Giannakos. He said he welcomes any inspection and wants to engage in a debate with Strang about "common sense."

Not worried about bad publicity

When asked if he insists that customers wear masks while at his restaurant, Giannakos said the restaurant isn't responsible for enforcement.

"We have the sign there that says, 'Please wear a mask,'" he said. "But again, we're not the police to enforce things."

He said many people are only wearing a mask because they believe it is mandatory, but in his view, "mandatory" and "law" are different things.

Describing the situation as a war between good and evil, Giannakos said he's not afraid of any fallout the restaurant may experience from his position.

"That's a casualty of war and I'm willing to put my restaurant up for people to take [out] their frustrations," he said.

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