Coronavirus: Montreal co-working space shut down by police considers legal action

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Owners of Anticafe, a downtown co-working space, are demanding answers after they say officers forced them to close twice in a week. As Global’s Phil Carpenter reports, the owners say they are being unfairly targeted, even though they are not violating public health guidelines. – Oct 30, 2020

Owners of a downtown Montreal business are demanding answers from the city’s police after officers forced the company to close twice in a week.

The family who owns Anticafe, a co-working space on Ste-Catherine Street near Place des Arts, say they are being unfairly targeted because they are not a restaurant and as such are not violating pandemic public health guidelines.

The last time the cops showed up to shut them down was Wednesday evening.

“Yeah, they just came right from the entrance and they just said that we have to close immediately,” office manager Lisa Miller told Global News.

Read more: Downtown Montreal on life support with workers reluctant to return

She said all the occupants were given just minutes to get out and that the cops refused to listen.

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“When I tried to explain to them that we are a co-working space and not a café they just said ‘look, you are called Anticafe'”.

Miller said it’s the third time in as many weeks that the police have come calling.  According to her last Thursday two officers showed up and gave them ten minutes to close.  She claimed they were aggressive and threatened to fine everyone inside.

“They said they will call a big group of cops and they will close us forcefully,” she insisted.

Her father Filipp Miller, who owns the business, noted that the first time officers visited the establishment two weeks ago, they looked around and asked questions.

He said he doesn’t know why all this has happened.

“The government is very quick to make decisions but very slow to explain them,” he complained.

After they were made to close last week the company hired lawyer Christina Muccari who said once she consulted with them, she advised them them to reopen because they didn’t break any laws.

“We understood that the Montreal police services (SPVM) had not given them any formal notice, any fines, any documentation really supporting the fact that they should be closed,” she explained.

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As a co-working office, clients rent space at Anticafe to work hourly.  The manager said the business caters to people who cannot work from home or to those who need an office space, but can’t afford one.

According to her, before the pandemic clients had the option of having hot drinks or snacks that they could serve themselves, for free, but now with COVID-19 restrictions only drinks are provided.

“Some teas, coffee, latte, capuccino, espresso,” she pointed out.

Read more: Montreal restaurants demand answers from Quebec after new 28-day closure announced

Muccari stressed that under provincial COVID-19 rules, as an office, Anticafe is allowed to be open.

“They don’t own a restaurant licence,” she emphasized.  “Their permit actually says they are an office.”

Montreal public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin agrees co-working spaces are allowed to operate, as long as people running them are careful.

“We have to make sure that the measures are in place,” said Drouin adding that she wasn’t aware of the situation at Anticafe.  “I’ll look at it with my santé au travail team,” she promised.

The workers insist health measures are followed, stressing that only 40 people are allowed into the 4,000-square-foot space.

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“We have two floors and we have 12 rooms,” Miller said.

Her father is trying to raise money for legal fees.

In an email statement, the SPVM said they conducted many interventions for pandemic violations recently.  They did not specify what laws were violated but wrote, “The SPVM could be asked to intervene again depending of the circumstances.”

Muccari believes the owner of the co-working space is on strong legal grounds to reopen.

She said, “In the absence of receiving proper documentation (from the police) in the next few days, and conditional to (the owners) continuing to following public health guidelines, yes, we would advise them to reopen.”

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