Airport seeks exemption to open stores on holidays — legally this time

The Ottawa Macdonald–Cartier International Airport is lobbying the City of Ottawa to be able to open its shops and restaurants legally, 365 days a year.

Airport recently realized it hadn't been complying with Retail Business Holidays Act for years

Stores at the Ottawa Macdonald–Cartier International Airport have been open illegally on statutory holidays for years. Now, the airport is fighting for an exemption to allow them to open legally. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)


  • The finance and economic development committee approved the exemption at its meeting on Mar. 6, 2018
  • Council approved the exemption at its meeting on Mar. 28, 2018

For years, the Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport has been unknowingly violating Ontario's Retail Business Holidays Act by opening its nine stores and kiosks on holidays. 

After realizing it wasn't in compliance with the act last year, the airport is now lobbying the City of Ottawa to be able to open its shops and restaurants legally, 365 days a year.

The airport is set to go before the city's finance and economic development committee (FEDCO) Tuesday to seek an exemption from the act, which allows certain businesses in tourist areas to open on six statutory holidays a year, including New Year's Day, Canada Day and Thanksgiving.

The airport wants its retail outlets to be open for all nine statutory holidays, including the three not normally included — Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Monday.

Krista Kealey with the Ottawa airport says they only recently realized they weren't exempt from the province's Retail Business Holidays Act. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

'Travel doesn't shut down'

"We have passengers that go through [the airport] 365 days of the year," said Kelly Adams, general manager of retail stores at the airport, who said it's not just travellers who like to be able to make purchases, but airport staff and security as well.

People expect to be able to purchase their bottle of water or a bag of chips and go to a restaurant if they wish to.- Kelly Adams, Ottawa airport's general manager of retail stores

"Even Christmas Day, we have passengers here, bright and early, travelling. Travel doesn't shut down, so we should be here to serve them."

"People expect to be able to purchase their bottle of water or a bag of chips and go to a restaurant if they wish to. I don't see why we should be closed. We're there to serve the public."

The airport serves more than 4.8 million travellers a year, according to Krista Kealey, the airport's vice-president of communications and public affairs. The decision to apply for the exemption was made in conjunction with the stores and has the backing of Ottawa Tourism and Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, she said.

The last business group in Ottawa to receive an exemption to the act was the Glebe Business Improvement Association in 2016, when city council, then the Ontario Municipal Board, allowed businesses to choose whether to open on six statutory holidays.

At the time, the Ottawa and District Labour Council argued allowing the businesses to remain open could hurt employees, and that some might lose shifts if they choose not to work on holidays.

Adams said employees at the airport's stores would not be forced to work holidays. Instead, she often has the opposite problem, and has to turn down employees — many of them students — who want to work holidays for the extra pay, she said.

Airport its own tourist destination

Mayor Jim Watson said he was surprised the airport wasn't already exempt from the act.

"I think it makes perfect sense. The airport is a little bit of an isolated island and if people are travelling on statutory holidays, they should have access to the shops and services," he said.

Meeting the exemption requirements means a business must be within two kilometres of a tourist attraction, such as a natural, outdoor recreational attraction or historical attraction.

Neck pillows and luggage are some of the items offered for sale at one of the Ottawa airport's nine stores and kiosks. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Kealey believes the airport fits the bill because it houses a number of sculptures and paintings, and also hosted Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis in July 1927.

"Based on some of the artifacts that we have and the historical significance of features in the airport and because we are a gateway into this tourist region that is Canada's capital region, [the airport should be exempt]," she said.

According to the city, businesses that contravene the provincial act can receive a fine up to "$50,000 or the gross sales in the retail business establishment on the holiday on which the contravention occurred."