A video circulating online appears to show a Saskatoon nightclub packed shoulder to shoulder, but the bar's owners say despite the clip, they're following COVID-19 protocols.
The clip, which was shared to SnapChat and taken inside Divas Nightclub on Friday night, appears to show a packed nightclub, with few patrons practicing social distancing or wearing masks.
The club's owner Aaron Paetsch confirmed the video was taken by a customer on Friday, but said despite what's shown in the video, Divas is following — and even going "above and beyond" — guidelines outlined by the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).
"Divas Nightclub was the first bar in the city to close and one of the last ones to open once we were allowed to, but also the only one getting called out on social media for 'not following rules'," the statement noted.
"We have always been co-operative with the SHA and can provide any information for them when requested, like contact tracing, but have never had an issue where they've needed that type of information from us."
"If the SHA had an issue with how we were operating, we would for sure work with them to fix it," the statement said.
The statement claims the business is operating within the regulations as required while still having to make up for lost revenue after being closed for four months.
"The health and safety of our staff and patrons will always be our first priority, but remember that once patrons are inside we can't control every move they make, or how they decide to distance from others."
In the statement, the club says it is encouraging patrons to wear masks and is providing them for free. It's also suspended DJ requests, installed plexiglass on its seating, and has increased staff and security at the club. He also said what's shown in the video is not the club's dance floor — as it's covered in tables to encourage physical distancing — but the club's bar area.
Reached by text message on Sunday afternoon, Paetsch said the club is sticking to capacity and is doing "everything we can."
"But you can't tell a room full of drunk people where to stand," he said in a text. "Trust me. I try every weekend."
Under the government's guidelines for nightclubs, dance floors or any spaces that "promote congregation" are prohibited.
'Ask them to sit down'
Mitch Lupichuk, co-owner of Capitol Music Club in Saskatoon, says that controlling a room is easier that Paetsch says. He said the SnapChat video was an "extreme disappointment."
"It's a really easy thing to do to keep people from dancing. If somebody starts dancing, you have to ask them to sit down. If there's a bunch of people dancing, you shut the music off. It's really simple. I think that that video just shows a real lack of empathy for the industry and that's bad for everyone," Lupichuk said.
Lupichuck says Capitol is losing tens of thousands of dollars per month by not having a dance floor. But he says it's important to follow the SHA's guidelines, not just for the safety of patrons and employees, but also so that the province is not inclined to shut down music venues, like in Ontario, or impose curfews, like in B.C.
"Right now, having a liquor license is purely a privilege. To be able to operate now is a privilege. The government's put these regulations in for a reason. And if you're not capable of controlling your room, you shouldn't have one," Lupichuk said.
"You need one security guard to do that. The government's paying 75 per cent of of labour right now. So there's absolutely no excuse to not have full staff in there."
'It worries me to no end'
For Joe Jackson, the general manager of PiNK Lounge and Nightclub, he said watching the video was "infuriating."
He says he's not sure what Divas is doing to ensure people are kept safe while at the nightclub, but based on the video, he said it does not appear COVID-19 guidelines are being followed.
When asked what kind of a message this type of behaviour sends to other businesses trying to follow the guidelines, he said it's like "a tremendous slap in the face."
Jackson said it's not uncommon for patrons of PiNK to leave the club for Divas after realizing its dance floor is closed.
"To see this video go viral, it's like 'Well, what the hell are we even doing? Why do we even bother?'" he asked. "And to be the general manager of the other dance club, it's also incredibly infuriating, because at least 20 times a night, a lot of our customers will say: 'Well, how come your dance floor isn't open? Divas has theirs open?'"
He says he's concerned about what the club's behaviour will mean for the safety and health of their staff and customers.
"It worries me to no end," he said.
"A lot of our customers are regulars that we've come to be friends with and so I don't want any single one of them to get sick because of someone who decided to go dance at Divas and then show up at our venue and pass this airborne virus onto everyone else."
On Sunday, the SHA released a public safety notification that listed Divas Nightclub as a potential COVID-19 exposure site on Oct. 3 between 11:30 p.m. and 1:00 a.m.