Provincial COVID-19 enforcement blitz to target big-box stores in Windsor-Essex this weekend

·2 min read

Provincial offences officers are headed to Windsor-Essex on Saturday and Sunday to check for COVID-19 compliance in big-box stores.

Officers will attend locations in the region to ensure that big grocery chains and stores like Walmart and Costco are following COVID-19 measures around masking, physical distancing and capacity limits, minister of labour, training and skills development Monte McNaughton told CBC News.

This time around, McNaughton couldn't say how many officers are headed to the region or the number of stores that will be visited during the blitz, but he said that last weekend the ministry had 50 officers cover 242 big-box stores in Toronto and Hamilton.

Out of these locations, McNaughton said 69 per cent were in compliance.

"[That] isn't good enough at this point. So we are holding businesses to account, we're closing down businesses that are not playing by the rules," he said. "We're doing everything possible to keep people safe and we just implore with businesses, supervisors, managers step up, do even more."

Richard Lautens/The Canadian Press
Richard Lautens/The Canadian Press

Stores that aren't following the rules may be ticketed and receive a fine anywhere between $750 to $1,000. Depending on the violation, McNaughton said officers might also initiate an investigation that could lead to higher fines.

Locally, small business owners have been frustrated that they've had to close their doors while big-box stores can remain open. The Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association has even created a petition calling for "fairness" with small businesses.

Prior to the lockdown in Windsor-Essex, these businesses were also part of COVID-19 enforcement blitzes to ensure compliance.

Local officers from the health unit will also be helping the province carry out the blitz. As of Friday, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit said that its own officers have received more than 500 complaints in the last two and a half months.

Since Nov. 1, health unit officials say they have issued 65 violation notices and 23 charges, with the most recent charges given out the week of Christmas.

Windsor-Essex County Health Unit CEO Theresa Marentette said people continue to send in complaints related to a lack of screening, personal protective equipment, improper mask wearing, lack of physical distancing and breaching indoor capacity limits.

At this time, McNaughton said that the officers will only focus on big-box stores, though the ministry is starting to attend farms across the province to ensure that safety standards are being met for migrant workers.

As of Friday, Windsor-Essex has 13 COVID-19 outbreaks on farms.

"I want every worker to know regardless of their passport that the labour laws apply to all of these workers to protect them and we 're going to make sure that these workers are protected," he said.