Hefty fine for innocent mistake Three city bars dinged $5,000 each for breaching new COVID-19 restrictions

Rhea Collison was hauling tables and chairs from the patio of her Corydon Avenue restaurant and bar, when provincial liquor control inspectors moved in and issued a hefty ticket.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/11/2020 (695 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Rhea Collison was hauling tables and chairs from the patio of her Corydon Avenue restaurant and bar, when provincial liquor control inspectors moved in and issued a hefty ticket.

Bar Italia received a $5,000 fine Monday for serving liquor to patrons, just hours after new provincial health orders kicked in as part of code-red restrictions owing to an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases in Winnipeg. All restaurants and bars were to close to the public, but still allow take-out, drive-thru and delivery service.

Collison, the general manager, said she wasn’t initially aware the order also prohibited patio service.

“I didn’t get proper documentation from the province and understood that we were allowed to use the patio, which we were not. I called my health inspector and she said, ‘No problem, just shut it down now.’ So, I started collapsing a couple of tables and chairs we had and shooing off a few customers, and then liquor inspectors popped over and said I was getting a ticket,” Collison said in an interview Wednesday.

“It was just a misunderstanding. They refused to listen to me. The act had been in effect for six hours. Here I am making an innocent mistake, and I’m getting a $5,000 ticket. It’s absolutely obscene. It’s been mismanagement from the get-go, and now they’re scapegoating restaurants.”

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Bar Italia general manager Rhea Collison. The Corydon Avenue bar/restaurant was slapped with a $5,000 fine for serving people on the patio after misunderstanding the new regulations. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Collison said Bar Italia has worked hard for months during the crisis to keep patrons safe.

“We were the poster child for doing everything right all through this entire pandemic… We’ve been lauded by inspectors for doing a good job, and now this happens,” she said.

“I didn’t know patios were excluded, they’ve been changing rules so much over the last five or six weeks… The City of Winnipeg had just changed their bylaw that patios could be open all winter. That added to the confusion.”

The city is issuing temporary patio permits to the hospitality industry through March 31, 2021, however, that doesn’t impact the responsibility of businesses to heed provincial health orders.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to keep part of the business open and keep our people working,” Collison said. “We’re not talking about making money, we’re talking about just existing.”

Bar Italia is one of three city businesses ticketed for defying public health orders this week.

The Pony Corral Restaurant and Bar was fined $5,000 for having patrons in its premises after 11 p.m., not making sure people were seated, and allowing dancing. It’s the second offence for the Pembina Highway business, after receiving a $2,542 ticket in May.

The Pembina Hotel was also fined $5,000 for not making sure its customers had left by 11 p.m.

The head of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association said Wednesday it would be appropriate for the province to stop publicly identifying businesses that aren’t following rules to the letter.

Executive director Shaun Jeffrey said while the association has made every effort to ensure members are in compliance for the health and safety of patrons and staff, these are historically difficult times for the food and beverage industry.

The Pembina Hotel was fined $5,000 for not making sure its customers left by 11 p.m. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“Since Day 1, our association has floated the message that we needed to comply with the Manitoba Health requirements — the regulations and restrictions in place,” Jeffrey said. “But every week, we are facing new restrictions, and with new restrictions comes a new level of education to the industry. When they change on a weekly basis, it’s very hard for a restaurant to keep up.

“In most cases, government did not consult us in any way on the rule changes… It makes our job more complicated because we’re forever changing the message we’re sending out to our members.”

Jeffrey said only a small fraction of businesses are marring the industry’s reputation.

“Whether an owner decides to misrepresent the restrictions or act on their own, this is a very small amount of people — and I don’t necessarily think it’s fair to focus (on those) when 99.5 per cent of the operators are doing it the right way,” he said.

“Our industry is comprised of operators who’ve made massive sacrifices for eight months now… at the cost of their business, their livelihood and their future.”

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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Updated on Wednesday, November 4, 2020 8:05 PM CST: Fixes multiple typos

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