'There's a lot of grey area': Saskatoon nightclub owner says health order limiting alcohol causes confusion

A public health order in Saskatoon that prohibits alcohol consumption at 'nightclubs' after 10 p.m. CST is creating confusion over which establishments the restrictions apply to and why. 

Alcohol consumption prohibited in Saskatoon nightclubs after 10 p.m. CST starting Friday

Nightclubs in other parts of the province will be allowed to continue operating without the curfews on alcohol consumption that were introduced in Saskatoon.  (CBC)

A public health order in Saskatoon that prohibits alcohol consumption at 'nightclubs' after 10 p.m. CST is creating confusion over which establishments the restrictions apply to and why.

The province announced Wednesday it will prohibit alcohol consumption at nightclubs in Saskatoon between 10 p.m. and 9:30 a.m. CST starting Oct. 30. They will also be required to close between 11 p.m. and 9:30 a.m. CST the following day. 

Nightclubs in other parts of the province will be allowed to continue operating without these restrictions. 

The Ministry of Health defines a nightclub as "an establishment at which the main activities are selling liquor and providing music to which patrons can dance," although dance floors were already prohibited by a previous heath order.

"This order is not intended to capture lounges, pubs, restaurants, private clubs, or liquor manufacturing facilities that have tasting rooms," said the ministry in a statement.

The measures follow a series of outbreaks linked to venues in Saskatoon. As of Sunday, 48 cases were linked to the Longbranch Bar outbreak, 22 cases were linked to Divas nightclub, 11 cases were linked to the Canadian Brewhouse in Stonebridge and eight cases were linked to Outlaws Country Rock Bar.

It is not clear which of these are categorized as nightclubs. 

Joe Jackson, the general manager of Pink Lounge and Nightclub in Saskatoon, said many Saskatoon venues that have dance floors and remain open after midnight are not licensed with the city as nightclubs. 

"It's really quite confusing," said Jackson.

"There's a lot of grey area that isn't quite accurate. And nor is it, you know, properly communicated, to say the least."

He said Pink is currently operating as a lounge, because the dance floor is closed and broken up by furniture. Jackson said he is not sure if the liquor consumption limits apply to his business when it is operating as a lounge.   

"I think there's something like seven or eight hundred odd bars and restaurants and pubs in the Saskatoon area," said Jackson. 

"It doesn't seem fair that they get to operate until 2 a.m. and we all have to operate to 11."

Jackson said the busiest time at Pink is between 11:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. He added that the business has installed plastic barriers and increased UV cleaning in the venue. 

He also questioned why the stricter rules are limited to Saskatoon and why businesses outside the city limits are considered a lower risk than those in Saskatoon that have not been linked to outbreaks.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, said at a news conference Wednesday that the decision is based on the number of cases that have been linked to nightlife in Saskatoon.

"That's where a lot of the larger clusters due to nightclub type venues have happened," said Shahab. 

"Obviously if we were to see that more broadly other considerations may apply."

Saskatchewan chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab announced the restrictions at a news conference in Regina on Oct. 28. (CBC News)

He said there are no changes to rules for churches, which have also also been linked to large outbreaks.

"For the most part, churches, places of worship have been extremely diligent," said Shahab. 

Premier Scott Moe has said multiple times that most recent outbreaks are the result of a small minority of rule-breakers. 

Dr. Kyle Anderson, an assistant professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan, said more education is needed.

"Making sure that people understand that it's not just them, but it's the rest of the community that they live in that is taking on this risk when they're doing the behaviours that maybe could be avoided," Anderson said. 

He said total shutdowns of night clubs should be considered if needed, but the move should be accompanied by support for affected business owners and workers. 

"People going to gyms, people going to bars, it might be an outlet for socializing," Anderson said.

"If that not only puts them at risk, but puts the rest of the population at risk, that's something that maybe we say — it's time for us to avoid that because our public health system and our hospitals can't take a lot more strain."

With files from Laura Sciarpelletti


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