COVID-19: Saskatchewan business owners worried about vaccination proof pushback

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Business owners worried by vaccination proof pushback
WATCH: A business owner said he had little warning Saskatchewan's new proof of vaccination system would apply to his stores. And he's worried it will be up to employees to enforce it – Oct 1, 2021

New health measures are now in effect in Saskatchewan, requiring most businesses to ask potential customers’ for proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test before entry.

Some business owners are worried about the consequences.

“There’s been customers that have said they’re never coming back again,” Jim Southam said, saying such messages are alarming to small businesses.

Southam is the vice-president of the Saskatchewan Independent Cannabis Retailers Network, which he said represents around a third of the cannabis stores in the province. He is also the CEO of Prairie Cannabis, which has locations in Saskatoon and Prince Albert.

He said the new guidelines puts a lot of pressure on businesses, especially staff, and that the abruptness of the measure was disruptive.

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He said it will be up to employees to “be on the front line of informing the public of what the provincial mandate and health order is.”

The Saskatchewan government announced the measure on Sept. 16.

The government previously deemed both cannabis and all liquor “essential,” meaning that they were allowed to remain open, like grocery stores.

Southam said he found out the new guidelines applied to his business on Tuesday.

“We had two and a half days to come and get all our employees up to speed and there’s been a lot of questions and concerns, and we’re trying to deal with those as best we can,” he said.

Aleana Young, Saskatchewan NDP Economy and Jobs critic, said changing the guidelines so rapidly “(is) unacceptable and it’s irresponsible.”

An industry spokesperson, Hospitality Saskatchewan CEO Jim Bence, told Global News most owners were prepared for the measure, though he noted some of the details and nuances “are still really up in the air.”

He also said several owners are worried it will fall to employees to inform customers and enforce the measure.

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“There’s been some examples we’ve seen across Canada and across the world in which customers have behaved really in an inappropriate way… but it’s not appropriate to take it out on front-line staff. And it’s not appropriate to take it out on anybody in that business,” he said.

Some businesses said they will oppose the health guidelines.

Global News reached out to several businesses that said on social media they would not check patrons’ vaccine status at the door and reached out to them.

Global News viewed an email, obtained and shared by 980 CMJE, from Villains Strength and Conditioning gym in Regina.

The email said “we WILL NOT (sic) requiring a proof of vaccination to workout at the facility,” stating it is a judgment-free zone.

The email also states there have been “ZERO (sic) contractions of the virus from the facility,” since the pandemic began.

On Oct. 15, 2020 the Saskatchewan Health Authority issued a potential COVID-19 exposure alert for the gym.

An exposure alert does not mean anyone contracted the virus at the location, just that people who were at the specific area at the listed time may have been in close contact with someone who was likely infectious was also there.

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Global News contacted Villains. The staff member denied they were not checking vaccine statuses, said they had “nothing going on” and hung up.

Other businesses responded in similar ways.

In a statement, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health said the health orders are lawful requirements and any person or business could be ticketed.

The statement said individuals could pay $2,800, including the mandatory victim surcharge, and businesses could pay $14,000 with the surcharge.

The Ministry of Justice later clarified the maximum amounts a court can compel a person or business to pay are $7,500 or $100,000, respectively, or $75,000 or $100,000, respectively, depending on which Act the charges are filed under.

Southam said he hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“We are trying to let the public know that this isn’t something that we took upon ourselves. It’s something that we’ve been asked to do by the province,” he said.

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