Police lay charges as Etobicoke BBQ restaurant defies lockdown and opens for indoor dining — again

Police have again attended Adamson BBQ, a restaurant in Etobicoke that flouted public health restrictions and allowed in-person dining despite a provincial lockdown order.

9 charges include operating without a licence, holding illegal gathering

Anti-lockdown demonstrators gather at Adamson Barbecue on Wednesday for the second day despite a shut-down order issued by the province. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Police have laid charges after once again attending Adamson Barbecue on Wednesday, a restaurant in Etobicoke that had been ordered to close after defying public health rules and allowing in-person dining despite a provincial lockdown order. 

Toronto Police Superintendant Dom Sinopoli said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon that owner Adam Skelly and the restaurant face nine charges, including violating indoor dining rules, holding an illegal gathering and operating a business without a licence. Four of the charges were laid on Tuesday. 

When asked what police will do if Skelly decides to open again Thursday, Sinopoli said "tomorrow is another day" and they will take enforcement actions based on what happens.

The restaurant closed around 1 p.m. after serving crowds of customers Wednesday morning. Skelly decided to close down after discussions with police, said Sinopoli.

He said police are currently in discussions with "partners" about what their enforcement powers are when dealing with businesses that violate health orders. He did not elaborate on who those partners are.

Protesters not charged

No one who rallied outside the restaurant was charged or fined, he added.

Crowds outside the establishment were told to leave Wednesday afternoon, though many also left as it began raining. 

Earlier Wednesday morning, more than a dozen officers arrived at the restaurant located on Queen Elizabeth Boulevard. Skelly was seen without a mask speaking with law enforcement indoors.

A crowd of customers was gathered to eat inside the establishment as officers were present. As the doors opened at 11 a.m., cars came by the restaurant to honk in support and a rally of at least 100 people formed outside the establishment to protest current lockdown orders. 

One day after Monday's lockdown came into effect for Toronto and Peel region, Skelly vowed in an Instagram post that his establishment would remain open despite new health measures that prohibit in-person dining at restaurants for at least 28-days.

The new rules were ushered in as the vast majority of the province's increase in COVID-19 cases stem from the regions covered by the lockdown.

The City of Toronto intends to take Adam Skelly to court to recoup policing costs associated with his refusal to close his Etobicoke restaurant in spite of lockdown measures intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Coun. Mark Grimes told reporters at the scene Wednesday that Skelly has been charged for breaking public health orders on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

Grimes said he's asking for a maximum fine of $100,000 to be laid.

On Tuesday, Adamson Barbecue served a packed dining room of patrons who were pictured eating indoors and outdoors on benches, many without masks.

The unabashed flouting of the rules resulted in Dr. Eileen de Villa , the city's medical officer of health, to order the business to close Tuesday evening. When that order came in, Skelly was already closing up shop.

An illustration was posted to the restaurant's Instagram page Tuesday night of Skelly standing on a police vehicle with the caption, "Etobicoke. 11 a.m. to sold out. Dine-in." 

Skelly opened again Wednesday despite the city's order.

City, police 'not satisfied' with initial enforcement response, Tory says

Insp. Tim Crone had told reporters Tuesday that due to the "sheer number of people" inside the restaurant, police didn't have the ability to go inside and remove anyone. Later Staff Supt. Mark Barkley acknowledged at the scene that it was a mistake not to act sooner. 

At a news conference Wednesday, Mayor John Tory said that he was updated about the restaurant Tuesday and that he and police were "not satisfied" with law enforcement's initial response when the owner defied the lockdown. 

When reporters asked about his involvement in that response, he emphasized that it would be inappropriate for a politician to direct law enforcement and it's up to police to determine charges and enforce the law.

Police attend Adamson Barbeque on Tuesday after the restaurant announced it would open for in-person dining, despite a provincial public health order. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

However, he did say that he'd throw the book at business owners like Skelly, who choose to violate public health orders. Placing concrete blocks in front of the restaurant would be something he'd consider — but he again said he will not direct police. 

Barkley, who spoke on the phone at the news conference, said the response to the barbecue restaurant was a "complex situation" and police had to ensure they handled it in accordance with the law.

He did concede that after reviewing the response there were "other opportunities" that officers could have pursued at the time. 

Barkley confirmed that charges were laid against the business. 

Ford calls owner 'irresponsible' and tells him to shut down

During a news conference Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford said he was not going to " start pounding on a small business owner when the guy's holding on by his fingernails." But he emphasized that guidelines have to be followed.

But on Wednesday, he took a sterner tone toward Skelly and any other businesses that are considering defying public health orders.

"You need to shut down. You're putting people's lives in jeopardy," he said, in response to a question about the barbecue restaurant openings again for the second day in a row. "This guy is just totally ignoring public health officials. That's how this spreads."

"People are dying, because of COVID-19. And he just wants to say 'forget it' and have everyone down there? It's absolutely irresponsible and ridiculous," he said. 

His statements came as reporters asked questions about why larger department stores like Walmart were allowed to remain open, while small businesses sometimes selling similar goods had to shutter. 

Spectacle outside eatery a 'distraction': restaurant owner

Toronto restaurateur Nathan Hynes said he's concerned the opening of Skelly's eatery and the response from officials has distracted from real concerns small business owners have as they enter the first week of the new lockdown.

The new rent subsidy from the federal government paid directly to tenants is coming too late, said Hynes, who owns The Auld Spot Pub on Danforth Avenue. 

"The support hasn't been good enough. And the big businesses kind of act on a different playing field," he said, adding that the province allowing big players like Walmart to remain open has been a blow.

Hynes said he continues to owe fixed costs to banks and insurance companies that he cannot pay.

The Auld Spot Pub in Toronto prior to the new lockdown. (Supplied by Nathan Hynes)

He said he firmly disagrees with Skelly's decision to reopen, but added the sporadic approach by different levels of government in providing support for businesses has been a concern throughout the pandemic. 

"My creditors are knocking on my door looking for money that I can't pay them because I'm forced to close," he said.

"I don't want a sideshow like this to overwhelm ... the reality of the situation and distract from a real kind of change happening here."

With files from Linda Ward