Ottawa business owner won't ask workers to enforce mask rules

The owner of an Ottawa coffee chain says mandatory mask rules announced by four public health units on Monday could place significant pressure on employees to enforce the new policy, but not at his shops.

Happy Goat Coffee employees to instead 'politely request' customers to wear masks, says owner

As of 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, residents within the jurisdiction of four local public health units — including Ottawa Public Health — will be required to wear masks at indoor public places. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The owner of an Ottawa coffee chain says mandatory mask rules announced by four public health units on Monday could place significant pressure on employees to enforce the new policy, but not at his shops.

Henry Assad, owner of Happy Goat Coffee, said his employees will instead be asked to "politely request, but not to enforce," the new mask rules intended to protect residents against the spread of COVID-19. 

"If the customer is not willing to oblige or is not willing to actually voluntarily put the mask on, I think we'll have to leave it at that," said Assad, while speaking with All In a Day host Alan Neal on Monday. 

"I definitely will not ask my employees to ask people to get out of the establishment or to force them to wear one," he said. "That will not be our recommendations, at least for the time being."

Henry Assad, owner of the Happy Goat Coffee chain, says employees won't be told to enforce new mandatory mask rules. Instead, employees will be instructed to politely ask that customers wear masks. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

According to the new indoor mask rules, business owners, as of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, are required to adopt a policy to make sure customers aren't inside businesses without a mask that covers the nose, mouth and chin. 

Speaking at a Monday media conference, Ottawa Public Health medical officer of health Vera Etches said the onus will be on businesses to establish a mask policy, train staff and post visible signs about the new rules. 

However, Etches said "we do not expect them to be the police." 

Exceptions to the mandatory mask rule apply to young children, as well as customers unable to safely wear a mask due to pre-existing medical conditions.

Businesses could face fines ranging from $500 to $800 for non compliance.

'A lot of concern' around rule

Ryan Mallough, Ontario provincial affairs director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said his organization has heard "a lot of concern" from businesses in areas where mandatory mask rules exist. 

Ryan Mallough, with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, says he hopes bylaw officers and health officials enforce new mandatory mask rules fairly. (Sameer Chhabra/CBC)

He's also hearing from businesses who understand that the rules are designed to protect against COVID-19, he said. 

"Absolutely no one wants to see us get into second-wave territory or a situation where businesses are going to be shut down again," Mallough said. "And if mandatory masks [are] going to help us get there, that is good."

Mallough says there's a lack of clarity about how the mask rules will be enforced in communities across Ontario.

"For example, if you've got a customer that is outright refusing to wear a mask, you're supposed to deny them entry. But if they're already in your store, what exactly is the business owner expected to do?" asked Mallough.

"Are they supposed to kindly ask them to leave? And if they refuse, is there going to be a number to call or are they expected to sort of escort them outside the premises?"

LISTEN | Henry Assad talks about new mandatory mask rules 

Today Ottawa Public Health announced a mandatory mask order for indoor spaces. We talked to the owner of Happy Goat cafe about how this will change or affect the way his employees work. 10:37

He added that exemptions made for customers with pre-existing medical conditions also creates an element of uncertainty.

"If someone says, 'Well, I have a respiratory illness, I don't have to wear a mask' … [Is] a business owner supposed to inform other customers so they're comfortable with it?" Mallough said. "What is the onus there?"

Mallough said his organization wants to see mandatory mask rules applied fairly, adding that while it's on business owners to attempt to implement such policies, bylaw officers and health officials also have roles to play. 

With files from CBC's All In a Day and Sameer Chhabra

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