As It Happens

Toronto restaurateur says anti-vaccine protesters are harassing her patrons and staff 

Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg says anti-vaccine passport protesters have been crowding outside her establishments' patios for weeks, banging on pots, yelling at customers and calling her a Nazi. 

Jen Agg says she's become a target for demonstrators since she publicly called for an Ontario vaccine passport

Jen Agg owns three restaurants in Toronto's Little Italy neighbourhood. She says her patios have become a focal point for anti-vaccine protests. (Source: greygardens.ca)

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Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg says anti-vaccine-passport protesters have been crowding outside her establishments' patios for weeks, banging on pots, yelling at customers and calling her a Nazi. 

Agg owns two restaurants and one bar on a corner of Dundas West in Toronto's Little Italy neighbourhood, which she says has become a focal point for weekend demonstrations since she publicly supported an Ontario vaccine passport system last month. She doesn't require them at her own establishments, which are only open for outdoor dining. 

"Chaotic, annoying, loud, headache-inducing, cringey … those are the words that come to mind," Agg told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. 

"I have not engaged with them, but I have had to listen to them harass my staff and yell at me, scream in my face that we're Nazis [and] I'm the queen bigot. You know, it's good to be queen, but not that way."

On Saturday, the police showed up, but Agg says they weren't much help.

Toronto Police Services said its officers responded to reports of protesters outside a café on Saturday evening and "discovered two separate groups of protesters involved in a heated disagreement."

"Officers separated both groups and people were allowed to continue to protest peacefully," police spokesperson Connie Osborne said in an emailed statement.

"Police remained on scene to monitor the situation, ensure the safety of everyone and keep the peace. Pedestrians were able to pass on the sidewalk and several protesters were cautioned for language. No arrests were made and the protesters later dispersed."

CBC was not on the scene of the protests. 

Agg says she understands that people have a right to peaceful protest, but these demonstrations are anything but peaceful.

She says the protesters, who are maskless, have been getting in customers' faces, putting them at risk of catching COVID-19, and forcing her servers to navigate through aggressive crowds to reach patrons. 

"It's very strange, very aggressive and really upsetting that people who are just trying to come out in support of restaurants — that have been through a lot in the past 17 months — are being treated like this," Agg said. 

"These activists … are out of one side of their mouths claiming to be pro-business, while they're getting in the way of us operating our business out of the other. It's very confusing."

Tory calls out 'bad behaviour' 

While Agg doesn't currently require proof of vaccination at her businesses, she's been a vocal supporter of a vaccine passport system for restaurants.

"You can't just leave businesses that you claim you care about to fend for themselves and enact protections and laws that the government should be enacting," she said. "It's not reasonable to put people who are working on the front line and make them the COVID police."

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he's been in touch with Agg. He called the protesters' behaviour "unacceptable," and said he's shared his concerns with interim police chief James Ramer. 

"I saw the video Jen Agg posted on social media over the weekend — I think that's just plain bad behaviour by these protesters," he said in an emailed statement.

"I don't direct the police but I would hope they would definitely be on top of this and understand that there is a point when protest crosses the line and becomes harassment."

Vaccine passports in Quebec, B.C.

Tory also reiterated his support for a province-wide, proof-of-vaccination system, saying: "I believe that will help restaurants stay open and avoid another lockdown."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly rejected calls for such a system, saying he doesn't want to create "a split society." His office did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

A restaurant employee holds the scanning program on her phone displaying the double vaccine confirmation at sports bar in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

As Canada enters a fourth wave of the pandemic fuelled largely by the more aggressive delta variant, vaccine mandates are becoming more commonplace, with several businesses, universities, workplaces and governments requiring proof of vaccination. 

Quebec was the first province to announce a vaccine passport system. Starting Sept. 1, people in Quebec will have to provide proof of vaccination to attend festivals, bars, restaurants, gyms and training facilities.

The B.C. followed suit this weekend, announcing a plan to require proof of vaccination for anyone who wants to attend a concert, sporting event, movie, restaurant, nightclub, casino or fitness class.

The federal government says it will issue proof-of-vaccination documentation for international travellers in the fall. The feds are also requiring proof of vaccination for all federal public servants, as well as commercial air travellers and passengers on inter-provincial trains and large marine vessels with overnight accommodations.

These policies have been met with criticism from privacy rights advocates, unions and protesters, and have yet to be tested in court.

Still, Agg thinks it's only a matter of time before Ontario falls in line with Quebec and B.C.

"It's going to have to happen here. Ford is going to have to do something," Agg said. "I feel a little bit hung out to dry by our provincial government, and I think it's something they need to address."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Jen Agg produced by Katie Geleff. 

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