A Kelowna business owner said she was berated and harassed by three men while holding her baby after they refused to don masks inside her store, per B.C.’s new COVID-19 provincial health directive.
Jennifer West, owner of the Bean Scene North coffee shop on Ellis Street said the confrontation that occurred on Saturday at approximately 2:30 p.m. has left her shaken.
“It was pretty shocking … I was pretty shaken up,” she said.
West was feeding her six-month-old baby in the back of the store when her husband rushed in to grab the phone and call 911.
He said the three men attempted to order coffee, but when he asked them to put on a mask, they refused and got agitated.
“They said ‘we aren’t mask wearers,’ and he’s like ‘then I’m sorry, I can’t serve you,’ and then they immediately got out their laminated copy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and they got their cellphones out and started recording,” she said.
West said the store posts a sign indicating mask-wearing is required inside the business, as per B.C.’s mandatory mask policy in all indoor public spaces, announced on Thursday.
She said a box of masks is available to customers for anyone who doesn’t have their own.
The men were asked to leave the premises but refused.
That’s when West emerged while holding her baby.
“I kind of expected that when I came out with the baby, they would just let it go and leave, I thought that that was something regular people would do, but they didn’t,” she said.
“He was trying to put his face around our plexiglass barrier, and unfortunately, one of the men I found to be a semi-regular customer, which is pretty disappointing.”
Following the five-minute-long confrontation, the men finally left on their own accord.
Police arrived a short time later and circled the block, but could not locate the anti-maskers.
“They came in looking for a fight and they ended up getting one at the end, which isn’t how I would have liked to handle it, but I wasn’t prepared for that kind of reaction,” West said.
West said she is sharing her story so other small business owners can be prepared for the inevitable pushback they will receive for enforcing the mask-wearing policy.
“I want other businesses to be prepared that this is something that could happen to them and to be prepared and to prepare their staff on how to deal with it,” she said.
She also urged customers to be mindful of the fact they are entering private property and business owners have the right to refuse service for violating store policies.
“I do have a right as the business owner to put rules in place that protect myself, and my employees, and my customers, the same as I can say, if you’re not wearing a shirt, or you’re not wearing shoes, then I can’t serve you.”
She said Kelowna RCMP told the pair they did the right thing by contacting the police.
“When we did call the police, they said ‘yes, call us and report these kinds of things,’ because then it’s on file and it shows that maybe we need more resources and support in this area.”
The three men were wearing dark jackets with yellow anti-COVID buttons pinned to the front, West said.
The mask mandate is part of sweeping new measures aimed at reducing community transmission of COVID-19, as daily case counts shatter records in Metro Vancouver.
The mask order applies to all indoor public settings and retail stores. There is an exemption for children under the age of two and anyone who can’t put on or remove a mask on their own.
Across B.C. businesses are being asked to back-up the province’s mask mandate by telling customers about the policy.
The province says patrons can be refused service if they won’t put on a mask and if staff are feeling unsafe or threatened, they should call the police.
Business groups are asking the public to support local companies by getting onboard with the mask requirement.
“They’ve gone to extreme lengths and expenses to ensure that the public is safe…so we want to make sure, first and foremost, that they are continuing to be able to operate and feed their families,” Dan Proulx, the general manager of the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce, said.
– with files from Megan Turcato