Saskatoon police investigate after pellet gun seized during proof-of-vaccination incident at restaurant
Frustration began when patrons mixed up start date, Cheesetoast employee says
Saskatoon police are investigating after a gun was seized during an incident over the weekend triggered by the province's new COVID-19 proof-of-vaccination policy.
Officers were called to a restaurant in the 2400 block of 22nd Street West shortly after 3 p.m. CST on Saturday "based on information that people had been assaulted and a firearm may have been present," a police spokesperson said in an email Monday.
An employee at Cheesetoast Family Restaurant had earlier confirmed with Radio-Canada they called 911 after two women walked in without showing their proof of vaccination. CBC News has agreed not to name the employee to protect their identity for safety reasons.
"I said, 'You can't be in here because you don't have your vaccination cards.' And she goes, 'No, I don't need it until Monday … All I need is my mask,'" they said. "We didn't fight, but we exchanged words."
Trying not to escalate the situation, the employee said they went to the back of the restaurant to retrieve a hard copy of the province's proof-of-vaccination policy to show the pair.
Under the Saskatchewan government's latest COVID-19 guidelines implemented last Friday, some event venues and establishments — including restaurants — require patrons' proof of vaccination or a recent negative test before they're allowed entry into the business.
When the employee returned, they said they gestured to the document to show the customers the guidelines.
At one point, while turned away to explain the rules to another patron, they claim someone either kicked or punched their thumb, hurting it. That's when the employee rushed to the back of the restaurant again — this time, to call police. Another employee then emerged to reiterate to the customers they had to show their proof of vaccination or leave.
"Then there was a scuffle between all of the patrons in the bar and I was on the phone with the police," they recalled. "When [the dispatcher] asked me what was going on, [patrons] were fighting in front of the bar door."
The altercation quickly came to halt when someone yelled out that another person had a gun, they said.
Soon after, a handful of police officers arrived at the scene.
Saskatoon police have confirmed a pellet gun was seized at the time of the incident, though no charges were laid because the complainant refused to provide a statement. However, investigators continue to follow up on the gun aspect of the incident, a spokesperson said.
"When the cops came in and wanted my statement, I said, 'You know what, I don't want to charge them — I don't want to deal with this s--- anymore,'" the employee explained. "If this is what's going to happen with [vaccine] passes, I don't want to deal with it."
Throughout the pandemic, they said Cheesetoast customers hadn't had any issues with COVID-19 protocols — until the proof-of-vaccine mandate kicked in.
Saskatoon police said this is the only incident in connection to the vaccination requirement they were called to since the policy was implemented.
Other Saskatchewan business owners and staff CBC News has spoken with have said the first weekend with the proof-of-vaccination policy was a success, with most patrons having all the required documents needed to enter.
'A growing pain period'
In Regina, police said they fielded several calls over the weekend regarding the province's new proof-of-vaccination mandate, mostly to offer advice to businesses on how to deescalate situations.
"A lot of it is trial and error; people going out and not realizing that they had to have it," police chief Evan Bray said Monday afternoon.
Bray noted city police continue to work with the Saskatchewan Health Authority and the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency's public health inspectors, who deal with businesses and individuals who fail to comply with COVID-19 guidelines.
However, in many cases, he said there are tools business owners and their staff can use to subdue situations on their own. Those include "arming yourself with the facts" about COVID-19 and having conversations with frustrated people away from other customers, preferably outside the business and on neutral ground.
"Sometimes, it's just having those conversations with staff in those businesses and helping them understand they can play a big role in deescalating right off the start," Bray said. "I think there's going to be a bit of a growing pain period. After that, I'm hoping things will settle down."
With files from Sasha Teman