Toronto

Black market barbers: Hundreds seek 'quarantine cuts' during COVID-19 pandemic

A barber based in East York says he's been travelling all over the GTA to give haircuts at people's homes. Hair salons and barber shops were ordered to close along with all other non-essential businesses across the province on March 25, but the demand for black market haircuts has not stopped since.

124 complaints against hair salons/barber shops investigated since March 29, city says

An East York man who goes by the name Apex Da Barber says there's been a huge demand for black market haircuts since the pandemic started. He even has an Instagram highlight reel titled 'Quarantine Cuts.' (Submitted/APEXDABARBER)

An East York man who goes by the name "Apex Da Barber" says he hasn't had a day off in weeks. He's been travelling around the GTA giving people haircuts at their homes, despite the COVID-19 restrictions in place across the province.

"Last month, I'd say I gave at least 200 haircuts," the barber said, adding the clients range in age from two to 35. 

CBC News has agreed not to identify the barber because he is concerned he could be punished for violating the provincial order issued March 24 to shut down non-essential businesses.

But he isn't the only one.

CBC Toronto found barbers across the GTA advertising on social media that they're taking clients for "quarantine cuts," as well as people seeking out the service.

Toronto Public Health says it's conducted 124 complaint investigations of hair salons/barber shops and issued 17 charges since March 29. In Brampton, there have been six charges related to hair salons and barber shops since the pandemic began, and many more warnings. 

Update: Since CBC News interviewed Apex Da Barber, he says he has stopped cutting hair at people's homes.

Apex Da Barber says he started getting calls as soon as the pandemic started.

"A whole bunch of my clients started calling and asking if I could please hook them up. Give them a  haircut, they're willing to pay any price."

Apex Da Barber says there all call-outs for barbers on social media, such as this Instagram story. CBC Toronto also found a Brampton barber on the platform who boasted he was the 'most requested quarantine' barber. (Submitted/APEXDABARBER)

He says he started taking appointments and implemented his own safety measures, including asking family members to be in a different room, wearing PPE and sanitizing his tools.

"Every day I'm booked from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m."

He believes what he is doing should be allowed as long as the customers are comfortable with it and says this type of service is happening a lot more than people think.

"Everywhere, barbers are on the go and taking care of clients," he said. 

"Even females are asking me to do their hair but I'm not a stylist, so I say no." 

'We've had people offer $500 for a haircut'

Chris Hammell is the owner of Town Barber, which operates two locations in Toronto.

He says his shops were among some of the first to close in mid-March, and he proceeded to call his clients and tell them why. He says he faced some criticism during those phone calls.

"We had people even on the phone offering, 'Well, what if you came to my house, or what if I came in after hours?'" he said, adding the barbers who work at his locations are experiencing the same thing. 

Hammell says he denied everyone who made those requests.

Chris Hammell, owner of Toronto's Town Barber, says he would never risk the safety of his clients and employees to operate under the table during the pandemic. (Submitted/Chris Hammell)

"This isn't about hair, this is about safety," he said.

"People even recognize me from the shop and say, 'Can we work something out?' We've had people offer $500 for a haircut."

Hammell says he's been speaking out about the issue, and even called out other barbers who were breaking the rules, asking them to stop.

He says he misses his work, his clients and the friendly environment of his barber shops, but safety is his priority.

"If you're that embarrassed and self conscious about your hair, find a way to make it look acceptable or just understand everyone's in the same boat." 

Toronto Public Health response 

In an emailed response to CBC News, Toronto's Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vinita Dubey says personal service settings, including barbers and hair salons, have not been permitted to reopen. 

"Toronto Public Health inspection staff conduct complaint investigations of personal service settings, including barbers and hair salons, that are not compliant with the provincial emergency order," the statement reads.

Dubey says COVID-19 continues to spread in Toronto, most commonly from person-to-person through close, prolonged contact with an infected person through coughing, sneezing or talking, and that the droplets can spread up to two metres. 

"Getting a haircut with someone who is not part of your household can lead to the spread of COVID-19 given the close contact."

The statement says Toronto Public Health is developing a document for local businesses, including salons and barber shops, to help guide them to safely reopen. That document will be based on the stages of economic recovery laid out by the province, Dubey writes. 

But Apex Da Barber says he will continue giving haircuts as long as the demand is there, and plans to open his own business when the pandemic is over.

"My clients say, 'Thank God, you're still doing this because without you we wouldn't know what to do or where to go.'"

About the Author

Talia Ricci is a CBC reporter based in Toronto. She's from Guelph and has also reported in London and Winnipeg. From the Middle East to West Africa, Talia has travelled around the globe volunteering and photographing. She enjoys covering offbeat human interest stories and exposing social justice issues. When she's not reporting, you can find Talia creating recipes for her plant based food blog.