New Brunswick

New Brunswick's new pandemic measures were 'rushed and sloppy': expert

Business owners say people have been happy to comply with the new proof-of-vaccination policy that took effect Wednesday, but a law professor cautions there's a disconnect between the new regulation as written and guidelines being offered to businesses by the province.

Law professor says there's a disconnect between the written regulation and guidelines offered to businesses

The Picaroons Roundhouse general manager Lisa Wilby (middle) says most customers at the Fredericton business have been happy to comply with the proof of vaccination requirement. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC)

Customers at The Picaroons Roundhouse in Fredericton are now greeted by signs at the entrances informing them of the new requirements for proof of vaccination and masking up when they're not seated. 

They can present their proof of vaccination at the cash register and get a hand stamp so they won't be asked again.

General manager Lisa Wilby says there's been some dissatisfaction, but most customers have been happy to comply.

"For the most part people are cooperating," said Wilby. 

"We've had a few grumble who are not happy about it but we've always followed public health regulations … This has been widely advertised, whether you agree with it or not, it's just what we have to do."

The Picaroons Roundhouse has signs at its entrances telling customers that proof of vaccination and masks are required for dining in. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC)

Inconsistences between guidelines and regulation

On Sept. 17, the province filed a COVID-19 "preventive measures" regulation under the Public Health Act.

It took effect on Wednesday and grants the province the right to demand compliance with its new restrictions.

The document sets out three preventive measures:

  • Providing proof of vaccination or exemption before entering certain premises or attending certain activities.
  • Providing proof of vaccination or wearing a mask and being regularly tested in certain settings.
  • Registration and proof of vaccination before entering the province.

The regulation will remain in force until April 30, 2022, unless repealed earlier.

Any individual or business that fails to follow the new regulations may be subject to fines ranging between $172.50 and $772.50.

CBC reached out to the province for further clarification on the guidance provided to business owners, specifically restaurants and the expectations for dine-in vs. takeout. 

New Brunswick’s Department of Health provided this "Vaccination Policy for Certain Businesses, Organizations and Services," which lists some frequently asked questions for business owners. (OpportunitesNB)

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Health noted, "If a patron is entering a restaurant to take-out, there is no requirement to show proof of vaccination. However, if the patron(s) wants to sit inside the facility, proof of vaccination is required."

The department also noted that businesses could seek further guidance through Opportunities New Brunswick, and provided CBC with a document containing answers to frequently asked questions by businesses.

The document repeats the advice provided to CBC by email: customers arriving at a restaurant for take-out do not have to provide proof of vaccination.

UNB law professor Jason MacLean said that advice is at odds with the regulation as written.

Jason MacLean is an assistant professor of law at the University of New Brunswick. (Supplied)

"The specific language of the regulation is that businesses or other entities that are subject to the new rule literally have to check for proof of vaccination before anyone enters," said MacLean in an interview. 

"So the minute someone steps into a business, technically the business isn't complying with the regulation and nor for that matter is the person because this regulation also applies to people."

MacLean said it appears the government is offering guidance outside the regulation, which could lead to confusion.

On Sept. 17,  the province filed a COVID-19 "preventive measures" regulation under the Public Health Act. (Government of New Brunswick)

"It's not clear to me that the government knows what the regulation is … so they're carving out exceptions that aren't anywhere publicly available and so they're being communicated on an ad hoc basis," said MacLean. 

"It shows that this was a rushed and sloppy regulation." 

David Duplisea, CEO of The Saint John Region Chamber of Commerce, said there have been some questions around clarity from some businesses, but he hasn't heard of problems with compliance.  

Duplisea said most businesses are asking for proof of vaccination from patrons, regardless of their intent to dine in or take out. 

Some businesses are keen to downplay proof of vaccination in a bid to appease as many customers as possible, as seen with this Pita Pit location in the province. (Submitted)

In Ontario, some businesses and staff were subjected to immediate abuse and threats from customers angry about that province's proof-of-vaccination policy, which also took effect Wednesday. 

Duplisea said it will be owners and staff who bear the brunt of enforcing the new safety measures, and said no one should be subjected to harassment.

"Simply articulate the policy to those people and provide the options to them," he said. "If they're not willing to conform to some of those regulations, then what happens is on them." 

Opponents say the new proof of vaccination policy infringes on personal freedoms, but Duplisea disagreed.

"I don't think that it's quite the the degradation of civil liberties that perhaps some people are implying," he said. "It's a necessity and it's a necessary evil. We need to reach that vaccination level in this province to keep us all safe." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mrinali has worked in newsrooms in Toronto, Windsor and Fredericton. She has written and produced stories for CBC's The National, CBC Radio's Cross Country Checkup, CBC News Network and CBC Entertainment News. Have a tip? Mrinali.anchan@cbc.ca

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