Alberta restaurant reopens after harassment over requiring vaccine passport
The Firehouse Bar & Grill has hired security to check patrons for vaccination proof after public backlash
The Firehouse Bar & Grill in Langdon, Alta. is reopening today with extra security in place after shutting down over harassment from the public over the restaurant's decision to require proof of vaccination.
The venue's owners had planned to reopen their dining room this week, and to ask patrons for Alberta's version of a vaccine passport, but the decision prompted outcry from the public, on social media, in phone calls and even in person.
"Just very angry, hateful messages. And it's not like we're scared for our lives or anything, but we are not wanting that backlash to be put on our staff. We don't want our staff to be afraid to come to work and deal with that type of confrontation," co-owner Aleesha Gosling told As It Happens host Carol Off.
"People were calling us sheep, and [saying] we should be ashamed to live in Canada because ... we are taking away people's rights and we're discriminating ... we're as bad as racists and we should watch our backs and that kind of stuff."
Gosling said that the messages made her staff feel unsafe, so she decided to shut down the Firehouse and only reopen once they had a plan.
Earlier this month, Premier Jason Kenney announced new public health restrictions in Alberta, to try to stem the tide of rising COVID cases.
However, businesses who ask patrons 12 and up for either proof of vaccination face fewer restrictions, under what the Alberta government calls the voluntary "restriction exemption program."
Other than in Calgary, there is currently no mandatory vaccine passport in Alberta. Some residents have expressed confusion about the details of the exemption program, and how it works.
"That kind of leaves us in a position where, well, what exactly are we looking at? Are people bringing in a piece of paper? Are people bringing in a card or are people showing us this on our phone?" she said.
When Gosling asked government agencies, including Alberta Health, they told her to refer to the restrictions online, which said to check for proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.
But even this question has become complicated — as well as an ethical one for her.
"Everybody has the right to say, 'I don't want to show my medical information.' And that's fine," Gosling said. "So then you're choosing not to come to the restaurant. But don't attack us for making the decision that we have to implement this."
The Firehouse plans to open its doors again Thursday at 3 p.m. local time, with security guards checking for proof of vaccination and dealing with the patrons who may not comply.
Gosling said that the restaurant is still catching up on its financial losses from lockdowns over the last two years — and that hiring security is an added burden.
"It says to me that the world has become extremely divided. That people don't understand that we don't really have a choice ... let's close our doors and put the Firehouse out of business, or comply," she explained.
"That's like, there's a gun to your head. You make the choice. [But] it's not really a choice."
But Gosling thinks it could help if the provincial government stepped in and made vaccine passports mandatory.
"Maybe some people would be a little bit more understanding, saying, 'Well, we really don't have a choice because it is now a bylaw."
"But what we're feeling is the people that are morally against this are morally against it as a whole, no matter who puts it in place."
Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview with Aleesha Gosling produced by Chris Harbord.