Restaurateur drops charter challenge of Ottawa's hookah ban

The owner of a Lebanese restaurant has withdrawn his constitutional challenge of the city's hookah bylaw.

Owner of Lebanese Palace argues ban on cultural practice infringed on equality provisions

Businesses argued the city's ban on smoking hookah pipes violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

The owner of a Lebanese restaurant has withdrawn his constitutional challenge of the city's hookah bylaw.

Brian Mahmoud of the Lebanese Palace on Industrial Avenue argued that smoking the pipes is an important cultural practice in many Arab and Middle Eastern communities, and that banning the tradition amounted to a violation of the equality provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Ottawa city council voted to ban smoking the pipes in public places in August 2016, bringing hookah bars in line with other establishments covered by the city's smoking bylaw. The hookah ban came into effect Dec. 1, 2016, but the city allowed a grace period for bar owners to adapt before bylaw officers began cracking down.

Businesses involved in the lawsuit submitted a request in August 2017 to pause enforcement of the hookah ban while their case was before the courts. The request was denied. 

As a result of that ruling, the court awarded the city legal costs of $15,761.69, according to city clerk and solicitor Rick O'Connor in a memo to council issued Wednesday.

Lawrence Greenspon, the lawyer for the charter challenge, said Mahmoud could no longer proceed because the ban, which Greespon said his client is respecting, has taken too big a bite out of his restaurant's revenue.

Greenspon said more than a dozen other establishments stood to benefit from the challenge, but none stepped up to support Mahmoud. 

"I still believe there's a good argument to be made. Could it be picked up by some other establishment? I hope so," Greenspon said.