HALIFAX — As Nova Scotia's proof-of-vaccination rules launched Monday, restaurateur Christine Bower said she was anxious her staff may face more tense encounters like one that left workers unsettled over the weekend.
The co-owner of the Wooden Monkey restaurant said in an interview her senior staff were met with verbal abuse from a customer upset at the requirement to wear a mask. Bower said the customer threatened to file a human rights complaint when staff informed them of the public health order.
After she and restaurant co-owners published a post on social media describing the incident as hurtful and frightening, the Halifax restaurateur said a stream of online abuse ensued. Bower said she hopes more outbursts won't occur now that the province's proof-of-vaccination system has entered into effect.
"Yesterday was a bit rattling, so I'm a bit anxious about what it's going to be like," she said during an interview Monday at her business, as staff opened up the restaurant.
"We just want to be sure everyone is respectful and kind to each other."
Small, locally owned restaurants seldom have budgets for doormen or security guards to enforce policies, nor can they afford large fines for failing to enforce the province's new rules, Bower said.
If people wish to protest the government's policies, she added, they should do so in front of the legislature a few blocks away, rather than leaving her to cope with staff so shaken they called her in tears to describe the anger they had faced.
The restaurant, which specializes in locally grown and harvested food, has had to close on three different occasions during the past 19 months because of the pandemic. Bower said she hopes mandatory vaccination will encourage the return of customers, as restaurants try to survive without federal subsidies.
Nova Scotia's new health order requires anyone aged 12 and up to prove they are fully inoculated against COVID-19 to access non-essential services and activities. In order to enter a range of venues, including restaurants, gyms, cinemas, concert halls and sport facilities, people are required to show their COVID-19 immunization record.
The province said original proof of full vaccination records are acceptable in paper and digital formats, and they must include the person's name as well as the brand of vaccine they received and date upon which they received it. Nova Scotia plans to implement VaxCheckNS later this month, which is a free cellphone application that reads QR codes.
An online poll conducted mid-September by Narrative Research indicated 67 per cent of the 1,231 Canadians aged 18 and older who were polled supported mandatory proof of vaccination for eating at restaurants.
At the Little Eden Cafe and Bakery in downtown Halifax, customers Taylor Stokal and Rebecca Williams said that showing proof of vaccination was already part of their routine. Stokal said obtaining her documentation online was seamless and required just minutes to download from the Health Department website.
"I feel that it's protecting a lot of people in our province," Stokal said in an interview after ordering her coffee. "It's protecting me and my family. I'm feeling good about it."
"I think everyone should be showing it," said Williams, who keeps her laminated copy in her purse.
Joe McGuinness, the owner of the Stubborn Goat Gastropub in Halifax, said in an interview Monday he anticipated most customers would co-operate with the new requirements, though he said those who don't will be informed to take up the matter with the Health Department.
"We do anticipate some people will be upset and try to gain access, and it's our job to politely inform them we can't grant you access at this time," he said.
Prince Edward Island will impose its vaccination passport system on Tuesday. The so-called P.E.I. Vax Pass will initially involve a paper proof of vaccination and will progress to a QR code later in October.
Newfoundland and Labrador is also preparing to launch a vaccine passport program that will be mandatory for "all non-essential activities" throughout the province. That province's vaccine passport will use similar technology to what Quebec uses for its system.
New Brunswick began requiring proof of vaccination to access non-essential services including festivals, nightclubs and conferences last month.
Nova Scotia said Monday it was adding provincial correctional services employees and regulated child-care employees to the list of those who must be fully vaccinated, noting those who are unvaccinated by Nov. 30 will be placed on unpaid leave.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2021.
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press