Coronavirus: Some Quebec bars vow to reopen despite closure orders

Restaurants and bars offer takeout food and drinks in Old Montreal on Thursday, June 4, 2020.
Restaurants and bars offer takeout food and drinks in Old Montreal on Thursday, June 4, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Many bar owners in Quebec are warning the government they could be pushed to “civil disobedience” and reopen their doors if the government doesn’t allow them to resume operations at the same time as restaurants.

Right now, restaurants are set to reopen outside the Greater Montreal and Joliette areas on June 15 and in those two areas on June 22. But bars are excluded from that reopening plan, and the government has not provided a date yet for when those establishments may receive customers.

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The Corporation of Owners of Bars, Brasseries and Taverns of Quebec (CPBBT) says it told the government on Monday evening that its members may reopen anyway.

“We have received a lot of calls from people who are totally fed up and, worse, that may defy the law,” CPBBT CEO Renaud Poulin said in an interview with the Canadian Press’s French-language service.

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Poulin said he doesn’t understand why the Quebec government is preventing bars from opening their doors while allowing restaurants with an appropriate liquor licence to resume selling alcoholic beverages to customers who haven’t purchased a meal.

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He called the situation “very offensive” to his members and added that if one of them were to come across a restaurant full of “dozens” of people consuming only alcohol in a restaurant late at night, “they will not accept it.”

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But on Tuesday, Premier François Legault called for “patience” from bar owners, insisting it was important different establishments do not all reopen at the same time to prevent new outbreaks of COVID-19.

Both Legault and Quebec’s public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, emphasized that restaurants came first in their deconfinement plan because social-distancing rules are simply easier to enforce there.

“There is a difference between bars, where everyone is standing closer to each other, than restaurants, where we limit the number of people at each table and the distances,” Legault said.

Arruda, likewise, added that alcohol consumption takes place in “another context” that has to be taken into account when it comes to social distancing.

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Legault also issued a stern warning to bars planning to challenge the ban.

“The law will be enforced,” he said in French.

In a Tuesday night press release from the CPBBT, the organization said Legault could easily “ease the tension,” so long as he gave bar owners a possible date for reopening. It also noted that New Brunswick bars have been permitted to reopen to customers and that in Ontario, bars will be permitted to reopen on Friday in most of the province — at the same time as restaurants.

Arruda, in response, promised that a plan to allow bars to reopen would be unveiled in the days ahead.

— With files from the Canadian Press’s French-language service