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Kelowna, B.C., business owner berated by anti-maskers while holding baby

Click to play video 'Kelowna business owner faced with hostile anti-mask customers' Kelowna business owner faced with hostile anti-mask customers
WATCH: A Kelowna café owner says she had to deal with a confrontational group of anti-mask patrons this weekend.

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.

Jennifer West says she was holding her six-month-old baby, Calliope, when she was harassed by anti-maskers in her Kelowna coffee shop.
Jennifer West says she was holding her six-month-old baby, Calliope, when she was harassed by anti-maskers in her Kelowna coffee shop. Submitted

“It was pretty shocking … I was pretty shaken up,” she said.

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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.

Read more: B.C. to require masks in indoor, public places and extend ban on social gatherings province-wide

He said the three men attempted to order coffee, but when he asked them to put on a mask, they refused and got agitated.

Coffee shop owner Jennifer West says she was harassed by anti-maskers on Saturday while holding her six-month-old baby,
Coffee shop owner Jennifer West says she was harassed by anti-maskers on Saturday while holding her six-month-old baby,. Submitted

“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.

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She said a box of masks is available to customers for anyone who doesn’t have their own.

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B.C. bus driver frustrated with lack of mask enforcement – Nov 21, 2020

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.

Masks and hand sanitizer offered to customers at the Bean Scene North coffee shop in Kelowna.
Masks and hand sanitizer offered to customers at the Bean Scene North coffee shop in Kelowna. Submitted

“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.”

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Read more: Coronavirus: All in-person services in B.C. places of worship suspended

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.

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Okanagan businesses react to new mask mandate – Nov 20, 2020

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.

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Signage at the coffee shop indicates masks are required.
Signage at the coffee shop indicates masks are required. Submitted

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.

Read more: No mandatory masks in B.C. schools despite sweeping new COVID-19 orders

“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.”

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Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announces B.C. mask mandate – Nov 19, 2020

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.

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“The majority of customers are willing to wear a mask. I’ve heard anywhere from 95 to 99 per cent of customers [are] having no problem with it at all. That being said… having a confrontation with a customer even if it is just one that day can really throw off the whole business and workplace morale,” Muriel Protzer, a senior policy analyst for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said.

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