'I just cringed': Restaurants, customers react to Quebec server's arrest

Ottawa restaurants are trying to figure out the ramifications for their industry after a Quebec waiter was arrested for serving salmon tartare to a man with a severe seafood allergy.

Gatineau's Simon-Pierre Canuel says he went into anaphylactic shock after eating salmon tartare

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Ottawa restaurants are trying to figure out the ramifications for their industry after a Quebec waiter was arrested for serving salmon tartare to a man with a severe seafood allergy.

"He probably feels like about three inches tall. The poor guy," said John Couse, who owns the Lieutenant's Pump, a popular Elgin Street pub. "It's an understandable mistake."

Earlier this week, police in Sherbrooke, Que., arrested a 22-year-old waiter for serving the dish to a client who ordered beef tartare and had warned him he was allergic to seafood.

Gatineau, Que., resident Simon-Pierre Canuel said he went into anaphylactic shock and had a cardiac arrest that left him in a coma for several days after inadvertently eating the salmon tartare.

"It's a human-to-human interaction, and there's room for misunderstanding, there's room for mistakes," Couse told CBC News on Friday.

Lieutenant's Pump owner John Couse said he "cringed" when he heard news that a server in Sherbrooke, Que., had been arrested after a severely allergic customer was served salmon tartare. (CBC)

Couse said servers at the Lieutenant's Pump are instructed to ask patrons who disclose a food allergy if it's severe — and if it is, they're supposed to alert both kitchen staff and management so that there's no chance of accidental contamination.

"I just cringed. It's such a tragedy for both the server and the customer."

At nearby Beckta Dining and Wine, staff log information about their customers' allergies and dietary restrictions, and sit down and talk about those notes before each service, said Kerri Smith, a hospitality manager at the upscale restaurant.

Although Smith declined to share her own opinion about the arrest, she said it's certainly been talked about.

"I think everyone's talking about it because it's a first. Anytime there's a first case in Canada, you'll hear a lot of conversation about it," she said. "Everyone dines out in some capacity."

Legal observers have weighed in on the case, and whether charges — most likely criminal negligence causing bodily harm — will be laid against the server.

Simon-Pierre Canuel says he was in a coma for several days and "almost died" after being served salmon by a waiter who he says was aware of his allergy. (Submitted by Simon-Pierre Canuel)

Alicia Sauer, who serves at the Heart and Crown in the ByWard Market, said she's worried about the precedent the case could set.

"It's scary, because you think that could happen to you," Sauer said. "If you ask that they have their EpiPen on them, you've done your part to make sure that they're safe." 

One criminal defence lawyer told CBC Montreal that in order for the Crown to convict the server, there would have to be sufficient proof that he displayed a "reckless disregard" for human life — not just simply negligence.

There's also the fact that Canuel left his EpiPen in his car — and for Heart and Crown customer Olivia Prior, who has allergies to eggs and shellfish, that fact makes all the difference.

"It's my responsibility, ultimately. I think it's ridiculous, the charges against this poor server," she said. 

"I've been in the serving industry, and I think it's completely unfair."