Salon owner vows to fight $1K fine issued during shutdown

The owner of an Ottawa hair salon is among several business owners who say they'll contest fines issued to them for allegedly contravening the province's COVID-19 shutdown.

Ottawa bylaw issued 108 fines during latest provincewide shutdown

Sunita Robertson, owner of Soni Hair Design, says she only entered her salon to do some painting and upkeep when a bylaw officer ticketed her for opening during the provincewide shutdown. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

The owner of an Ottawa hair salon is among several business owners who say they'll contest the fines they were issued for allegedly contravening the province's latest COVID-19 shutdown.

Sunita Robertson said she was stunned when a City of Ottawa bylaw officer entered her salon, Soni Hair Design on Rideau Street, in early February and handed her a $1,130 ticket.

Robertson said she was painting her salon at the time and not cutting hair.

"I was in tears. I asked him, "Why did you give me the ticket?'" said Robertson. 

The ticket was for the salon's failure to comply with Ontario's emergency shutdown order, which required non-essential businesses, including salons, to remain closed from Dec. 26 to Feb. 15 in Ottawa.

Robertson said she never accepted a client during the shutdown, including during the day in question. 

"I tried to explain to him that I was here painting to refresh my place," said Robertson. "The only person that was in the salon was my sister who brought me lunch."

WATCH | The dispute over whether the hair salon was open:

Ottawa salon owner vows to fight pandemic ticket

1 year ago
Duration 0:58
Sunita Robertson, who owns Soni Hair Design, says a by-law officer gave her a ticket for being open during the province’s COVID-19 shutdown. But she wasn’t actually open, she says — rather, she was using the closure to get some painting work done in the salon.

Robertson said she intends to fight her ticket, and has already heard from some of her clients who are rallying to support her.

"It was really, really upsetting," she said. "Business is very slow and I'm a sole provider for my business. I can't afford to pay that."

From small gyms to big-box stores

The city's bylaw department declined to comment on specific cases, but provided CBC data showing a slew of charges against both businesses and individuals in the city.

Nineteen businesses, including other hair salons, several gyms and fitness studios, restaurants and even an adult film store, were fined for not respecting the order.

Three big-box stores and a shopping mall were also fined.

CBC contacted many of those  businesses and several said they intend to challenge their ticket.

Bylaw officers also issued fines to 89 individuals during the same period for attending gatherings of more than ten people, often in private dwellings.

In total, 108 charges were laid against businesses and individuals.

Hookah bar incident nets 19 violations

One of the more glaring infractions occurred on Dec. 26 when officers entered what the city described as a "waterpipe establishment" — also known as a hookah bar — on Carling Avenue.

They found more than 10 people in the room. Eighteen people were each ticketed $880, while the unnamed business was given a court summons.

The hookah bar incident could easily have led to an outbreak of COVID-19, said Bay ward Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, who represents the area.

Bylaw did the right thing.​​​- Coun. Theresa Kavanagh

"This was not just a risk to themselves but to everyone they come into contact with, so something had to be done," Kavanagh said. "Bylaw did the right thing."

The city's director of the bylaw services, Roger Chapman, declined to be interviewed, but said in a statement that the department "remains committed to helping reduce the spread of COVID-19" by upholding both provincial orders and the mandatory mask bylaw.

With files from Trevor Pritchard

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