A weekend dinner service at Windsor's Ming Wah Chinese Buffet was interrupted after someone allegedly set off a can of bear spray, sending the cough-inducing chemical flowing through the restaurant's ventilation system.
The restaurant was evacuated at about 8 p.m. Saturday. Its manager, Ricky Kwong, said customers started running out the door just minutes after a white pepper-like smell started making its way to the main dining area.
"According to an investigation by the local fire department, it is suspected that those on the restaurant premises were subject to a pepper spray attack that may have circulated through the vents," the restaurant said in a Facebook post.
Customers who were in the restaurant at the time were allowed to leave without paying for their meal. According to Kwong, it only took about 20 minutes for fire crews to remove the smell from the restaurant.
By Saturday night, the cause for the smell was still unknown. But the next day, staff found a bottle of bear spray in one of the bathrooms.
"I didn't know this is legal to buy," said Kwong, adding he lost about 600 to 700 dollars in revenue that night.
Kwong said the item is something he didn't realize was legal to buy. However, a can of Sabre Wild bear spray — the same item found in the bathroom of Ming Wah — is available for purchase at most safety supply stores.
"If they put it in their pocket, there's really no way you can know how they did it. We don't put cameras into the washroom — because of privacy," said Kwong. "There's really no way to catch whoever do it."
According to one Facebook user who said she was at Ming Wah at the time of the incident, the smell was so strong that it could be picked up just outside the restaurant.
Another individual said the calling the fire department was warranted because the smell resembled a "possible gas leak."
CBC News reached out to Windsor Fire and Rescue Services for more information about this incident, but no response was received.
In terms of the legality of bringing bear spray into a restaurant, Windsor police said "every case always has a unique set of circumstances."
"You could also have a charge such as Possession of a Weapon for a Dangerous Purpose or Assault with a Weapon," said Betteridge in an email.
Any device which deploys a liquid, spray, powder, gas or any other substance for the purpose of injuring, immobilizing, or otherwise incapacitating any person are classified as prohibited weapons under the Criminal Code, the RCMP told CBC News in October.
"They think it's funny ... Even the waitress was coughing" Kwong said about the unknown perpetrator. "They feel they accomplish something."
"There's no benefit by doing that. Only creates trouble for people — for us, for customers, for everybody."