Quebec bar owners mull reopening in defiance of public health restrictions

In most of the province, dine-in establishments — any place with a permit to serve prepared food —  will be allowed to reopen starting June 15, while those within the Montreal-area will have to wait until June 22. Not so for bars.

'It’s just a matter of fairness,' says downtown bar owner frustrated by lack of action

Steve Siozios, who owns London Pub and Stogies Cigar Lounge in downtown Montreal, says bar owners like him need to know when they will be allowed to reopen and it needs to be soon. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

Some Quebec bar owners say they may resort to civil disobedience if the provincial government doesn't allow them to reopen soon.

"At some point, we will look at taking things into our own hands for our own survival," said Steve Siozios, who owns London Pub and Stogies Cigar Lounge in downtown Montreal.

"A lot of people have set a July 1 deadline to open us up in a regulated, well-meaning way without having arrests being made of people choosing to survive rather than stay closed."

It's not just owners who need to get back to work, he said, it's staff as well.

In most of the province, dine-in establishments — those with a permit to serve prepared food —  will be allowed to reopen starting June 15, while those within the Montreal area will have to wait until June 22.

No date has been set for bars to open.

Dr. Richard Massé, a senior public health adviser to the province, said the concern is that people are more likely to forget about physical distancing rules and practising proper hygiene when they are out drinking and dancing. 

Promise to loosen alcohol restrictions irks bar owners

However, provincial leaders have promised to loosen restrictions on restaurants to allow them to serve patrons alcohol even if they don't order food.

That's also a source of irritation for bar owners.

"It's very difficult to get a bar permit," said Siozios. "Now all of a sudden restaurants get all the benefits without the pain."

Meanwhile, many pubs and clubs will be able to reopen because they have the permit to serve food, he said.

"It's just a matter of fairness and viability for our business," he said.

Bar owners aren't the only ones fed up with the province's health restrictions. Gym owners and enthusiasts protested in Quebec City Wednesday, demanding the right to reopen gyms. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)

Shortly after Tuesday's announcement that restaurants will be reopening in Quebec, the Corporation des propriétaires de bars, brasseries, tavernes du Québec issued a statement criticizing the provincial government's lack of a plan for bars.

The association also says owners will reopen in defiance of the rules if Quebec doesn't give them the green light.

"Bar keepers are as responsible as those in other industries for enforcing government-mandated sanitary standards," the association says in a Tuesday statement.

It said the industry is capable of reopening with all the same restrictions in place as those imposed on restaurants.

'Are we criminals?'

New Brunswick bars are already open, and Ontario's will be open soon, the bar association says.

Jean-Jacques Beauchamp, a spokesperson for the association, said people drink sitting down at tables in most bars, making little difference between eateries and watering holes.

"Why aren't we allowed to open? Are we criminals? Are we aliens? No. We pay taxes. We have mortgages. We have rents to pay. We have employees," said Beauchamp.

"Where will our employees go? Where will our patrons go?"

Quebec's provincial government is expected to announce plans to lift more restrictions in the coming days, as many other sectors of the economy are also eager to get back to work.

About 50 people, including gym owners, practised yoga in front of the National Assembly Tuesday to demonstrate that it was possible to train while respecting public health directives.

With files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio

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