Toronto has laid no charges but has issued three warning letters to businesses that have failed to comply with a new provincial policy on COVID-19 that requires customers to prove they are fully vaccinated.
"There have been zero charges administered as Toronto Public Health is still focusing on educating businesses on the province's new proof of vaccination program," the city said in an email on Friday.
The city did not indicate which businesses have received the warning letters, saying it doesn't comment on specific investigations. The new provincial policy took effect on Sept. 22, 2021.
As of Sept. 30, 2021, however, the city said it has received 237 complaints about the new provincial requirement. The majority of complaints have been about restaurants, bars, coffee shops and food courts. The city has also received complaints about sports and recreation facilities.
The city has declined to say if customers are complaining about having to comply with the new requirement, or about businesses failing to ask customers to show proof of vaccination.
Using a "progressive approach" to address complaints, the city said its bylaw officers may visit businesses to determine what procedures an owner or operator has in place to ensure customers are complying. If there is "ongoing non-compliance," the city said it may issue a written caution.
Restaurants that are complying with the new requirement, however, say the policy has added to the cost of doing business and business seems to have slowed down since it took effect. The policy dictates that customers wanting to dine inside have to show a vaccine certificate that states they have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Linton Wright, general manager of Union Social Eatery, a restaurant in Toronto, said staff members have had to turn away at least 20 patrons since the policy was implemented less than two weeks ago. The eatery has also received phone calls from customers saying its staff should be ashamed for enforcing the rules.
"Fair or not, it's a responsibility. We just got to comply and follow through in doing what we need to do to get back to somewhat normal," Wright said.
"That's the bottom line. Whatever it takes to get back what normal is, is what we're willing to do."
Wright said he believes the requirement has added to the cost of doing business because he needs more staff now to check documents and the staff have to start earlier.
"It does take a while. You have people walking in, you have to get ID and the vaccine passport before they could enter the door and there's a lineup at the door."
At the Tara Inn, an Irish pub in Scarborough, business has slowed down, according to manager Melanie McIntosh. "For some reason, since the 22nd, it's slowed right down. That doesn't mean we've turning people away. They just might not be coming," she said.
"We're hanging in here. It's only a piece of paper and an ID. It's not a big deal. Just pull them out and get in here."
McIntosh said the proof of vaccination policy is causing those who are fully vaccinated to be forgetful about public health guidance, although customers have been ready with their vaccine certificates when they arrive. She said more customers are starting to walk around inside without their masks on.
"We have to constantly remind them that when you go inside to the washroom, or if you're leaving your table, put it back up, because everyone is a little more relaxed. They think that the passport gives them the passport to do what they want," she said.
Failure to comply could result in charges, city says
The city said failure by a business owner or patron to comply with the vaccination requirement may result in charges under the Reopening Ontario Act, 2020. Under Part I of the Provincial Offences Act, the set fine amounts are $750 for individuals and $1,000 for corporations, plus a victim surcharge.
Maximum fines for a charge laid under Part III of the Provincial Offences Act, however, can run from $100,000 for an individual to $500,000 for an individual who is a director or officer of an corporation to $10 million for a corporation itself.
Restaurants, bars, sports venues, gyms, theatres, cinemas and casinos are among the locations where staff must ask patrons to show certification that they received two doses of an approved vaccine at least two weeks before, along with identification that matches their vaccination document.