Hairstylists, barbers top list of businesses fined during pandemic

Hair salons and barbershops were the target of the bulk of tickets handed out for business-related bylaw infractions during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, but those tickets represent just a fraction of those handed to members of the public.

Bylaw officers issue 16 tickets for breaching provincial emergency orders since Apr. 3

A client of Aline Unisex Hair Design in Ottawa's Chinatown gets their hair done in June. Hair salons and barbershops have received the bulk of tickets handed out for business-related violations of COVID-19 rules. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

Hair stylists and barbers in Ottawa received the bulk of tickets handed out for business-related bylaw infractions during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the number falls far short of the total tickets issued to individuals.

City of Ottawa bylaw officers have charged 16 people since April 3 for operating businesses in ways that contravened COVID-19 restrictions, according to data released by the city to CBC News.

The businesses include nine hair salons or barber shops, four restaurants, two landscaping companies and one garden centre.

Most of the tickets carry a standard $880 fine for failing to comply with provincial orders regulating the operation of businesses during the public health emergency. Two people also received an additional $1,130 fine for obstructing someone implementing those orders.

"Investigations of this nature were launched as a result of complaint and proactively," said Roger Chapman, the city's director of bylaw and emergency services.

Pressure from clients

Five of the 16 people were charged for operating hair salons from their private residences between April 3 and June 12, the period during which all personal care businesses were supposed to be closed.

Lydia Nganga, owner of Lydia's Hair Salon in Heron Gate, said she felt pressure from clients who wanted her to cut their hair before the province had given the go-ahead to reopen.

"I had almost 50 clients on my waiting list," said Nganga. "They'd be calling just the first week, 'Lydia, can I come?' I was like, 'No, at this moment, you have to wait.'"

Nganga resisted the urge to sneak in an at-home quarantine cut because one of her clients could have had COVID-19.

"I couldn't put my family at the risk of having clients at home, and then one day you find out … that maybe you have a virus or something," said Nganga.

Nganga said she supports the government punishing business owners who break the rules.

Far more individuals have been issued fines for violating COVID-19 rules than businesses, according to City of Ottawa data. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Focus on individuals

The number of fines issued for business-related infractions pales in comparison to those given to individuals for activities like violating park rules.

Ottawa bylaw officers issued 110 tickets totalling roughly $100,000 in fines to people in April alone for various violations of pandemic restrictions.

Abby Deshman, director of the criminal justice program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), said research into law enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic shows the focus has been primarily on individuals.

"A lot of the enforcement focus was on people with their families in their local parks … rather than on businesses that were opening in flagrant violation of the laws," said Deshman.

The restrictions on businesses have changed significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic began. At first, governments shut down almost all businesses except those deemed essential and encouraged people to stay at home except for necessary trips.

Since the provincial government kickstarted its three-stage economic recovery plan in June, more and more businesses have been allowed to reopen with various health protocols in place.

Most of Ontario has now been in Stage 2 of that plan for almost a month, and with the daily rate of new coronavirus cases trending downward since early June, the province is preparing for Stage 3.

The City of Ottawa seems to have softened its approach to the enforcement of pandemic restrictions, after a few high profile incidents that critics say constituted overreach.

"At the very outset there were statements from public officials that their focus was on education [but] it quickly shifted to leaving education behind for ticket blitzes in Ottawa and enforcement," said Deshman. "I think that has waned."

The city has said it's now focusing much of its messaging on education.

For example, a proposed city bylaw to make masks mandatory will give enforcement officers the power to issue fines up to $400 for non-compliance, but city officials have made it clear that they only plan to fine repeat offenders.

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