MLA called out for not using right proof of COVID-19 vaccination at Winnipeg café
MLA says she showed printed proof of vaccination without QR code, which she has done at other restaurants
A Winnipeg restaurant owner says MLA Janice Morley-Lecomte tried to get lunch in her café on Friday without showing adequate proof of vaccination, which has been a requirement in Manitoba for months.
Wendy May said when her staff at the Oakwood Café in south Osborne asked the PC MLA for her vaccine card, she instead produced a printed-out piece of paper. While that paper appeared to show Morley-Lecomte's vaccination record, it didn't have a QR code to scan to verify it was real, May said.
Restaurants across Manitoba have been required to check for proof of vaccination for dine-in customers since September. The government's website says the Manitoba Immunization Card and the Pan-Canadian Proof of Vaccination Credential — both of which have scannable codes — are acceptable forms.
May said when her staff told Morley-Lecomte she'd have to come back with one of those options, the elected official told them they were mistaken about the rules.
"[She] then piped up [and said], 'I'm an MLA,' and told us that we were wrong, even though we showed her the information printed directly from Shared Health, which shows province-by-province what is [an] acceptable form of proof of vaccination," May said.
"She wasn't rude, she wasn't unpleasant. It was just one of those situations that I felt it doesn't matter if you're an MLA or who you are. If the prime minister walked in without the sufficient proof, he would be asked to leave as well."
Morley-Lecomte, who has represented the Seine River riding since 2016, said in a statement on Sunday that she left the restaurant after showing the server a printed copy of her proof of vaccination, which she says she's used at other restaurants.
"If there was a misunderstanding, I do apologize. I had used the printed record multiple times at restaurants and other locations where proof of vaccination status is required and it was accepted," she said in an emailed statement.
"I have subsequently downloaded the QR code on to my phone."
Morley-Lecomte said in the statement that she's fully immunized against COVID-19.
Government proof of vaccination, which I have used before, was shown to the server when asked. She stated she had to scan a QR code and went to ask the owner if the government proof of vax was sufficient. I was told no, had to scan a card. I left the Oakwood restaurant.—@JaniceMLPCSeine
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the premier only said the province expects all Manitobans, including elected officials, to follow and respect public health orders "in place to protect Manitobans from the impacts of COVID-19 and to ensure the health system can continue to care for those in need."
May said she would have responded the same way to anyone trying to eat in her restaurant without following those rules — especially since business violators can face a $5,000 fine.
"For me, the money would be a hard thing to swallow, but it's the reputation as well. We don't want to be known as a business that just flouts the rules openly and willingly," she said.
"Nobody wants to turn business away, especially after the last nearly two years. But at the same time, until we're free and clear without any restrictions, we have to uphold them as they are."
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew called the restaurant incident a "very bizarre situation" that raises questions including what proof of vaccination Morley-Lecomte tried to use and whether she'll face consequences for apparently trying to use her position to evade a public health requirement.
"The premier, Heather Stefanson, as well as the Conservative government need to let Manitobans know whether they agree with one of their MLAs asking for preferential treatment or whether they are going to address this situation with some kind of discipline," Kinew said.
"Whether you're a politician or not, nobody wants to hear that ... Everyone should be operating by the same set of rules."
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said if Stefanson, who was sworn in less than three weeks ago, wants to set herself apart from her predecessor, she needs to reprimand Morley-Lecomte for her actions.
"Part of this is just leading by example. If they really want to show that they're different, frankly, Janice Morley-Lecomte either has to resign from the PC caucus or be fired," Lamont said.
Last year, former premier Brian Pallister took no disciplinary action against James Teitsma when the PC MLA for Radisson travelled domestically over the holidays while his own government was strongly advising people against doing so.
Lamont said it's "unbelievable" for a government official to take issue with showing proof of vaccination to eat in a restaurant.
"Businesses have been punished for this sort of stuff. And so for an elected official not to get that is really disgraceful, but it also just shows that they don't even get what their own government is doing and saying," he said.
May said she doesn't think Morley-Lecomte should lose her job over the incident, but it is something she thinks the MLA's constituents should be aware of.
"Nobody is above and beyond what's expected. We are all struggling through this together," she said.
With files from Sheila North, Caitlyn Gowriluk and Émile Lapointe