Restaurant fined $5K for maskless dancing at private party, according to owner

·3 min read
Spicey Chef Restaurant remains open for takeout business. (Brian Higgins/CBC - image credit)
Spicey Chef Restaurant remains open for takeout business. (Brian Higgins/CBC - image credit)

The owner of a Charlottetown restaurant says he intends to pay a $5,000 fine for an infraction of the Public Health Act.

The incident happened during a private gathering held after hours last Thursday, according Ananda Argada, owner of Spicey Chef Restaurant on Belvedere Ave.

Argada told CBC News he regrets the incident, in which a part-time staff member who was celebrating a birthday invited a number of friends to drop by the restaurant on a "come and go" basis.

Towards the end of the evening, some people were dancing and not wearing face masks, according to Argada. He believes enforcement officers issued the fine Monday after public health inspectors viewed images of the party that had been posted on social media.

The restaurant continues to operate, offering takeout Indian cuisine. Argada and his partners purchased the restaurant from its previous owner in 2019. Speaking by telephone Wednesday, Argada described last week's incident to CBC News, as well as a previous warning the restaurant received.

A total of 40 people attended the gathering on Feb. 25, after the restaurant closed at 10 p.m., according to Argada. Fewer than 30 people were on the premises at any one time, in a dining room that can seat 120 when public health restrictions are not in effect. Argada says he left the gathering around 10:30 p.m. and the infraction took place sometime after that.

P.E.I. health officials issued a warning to Spicey Chef Restaurant Feb. 19, after inspectors observed kitchen staff not wearing face masks.

Argada believes excessive heat in the kitchen was causing staff to push their masks below their chins, in an effort to cool off. Since then, one of the kitchen's two ovens is now used less often, in an effort to improve working conditions in the kitchen.

5 business-related fines

Provincial justice officials told CBC News five public health fines have been issued connected to businesses on P.E.I. since the pandemic began, including one against a business itself, and four against individual employees.

Those fines were laid since last July. In addition, two warnings were issued to businesses last May and December.

"Peace officers are very diligent and will not hesitate to proceed with a charge when warranted and in the public interest," said the statement from the province.

Justice minister defends warnings

In the provincial legislature, a backbench MLA asked government to get tougher in enforcing self-isolation requirements for individuals.

So far the province has laid 111 charges and issued 200 warnings to individuals under the Public Health Act.

In December the province began doing random spot checks on those who were supposed to be in isolation. There have been more than 1,000 checks conducted so far.

During question period Tuesday, MLA Cory Deagle suggested to Justice Minister Bloyce Thompson that the province stop issuing warnings.

"People are quite upset in the public over this current outbreak," Deagle told the legislature. "Is it possible to move away from just simply giving a warning to giving an initial fine?"

The current fine is $1,000 for a first offence by an individual.

The justice minister told the legislature that warnings, rather than fines, for first-time offenders, encourage people to be honest with health officials as they track possible exposure to COVID-19.

Otherwise, "people might not be as forthcoming," said Thompson. "We are really trying to walk that very fine line."

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