After more than a year of dealing with closures and layoffs, restaurant workers are now facing another challenge: asking for proof of vaccination against COVID-19, a measure put in place by the provincial government earlier this month.
On Friday night, a group of people held a demonstration against proof of vaccination requirements on Argyle Street in Halifax, a popular spot for dining in the city.
At times, the protest impeded access to restaurants in the area, prompting the eatery East of Grafton to make a post on its Instagram page showing staff “standing around on a Friday night” during the protest.
“This kind of demonstration hurts local small businesses and their employees first,” the post said. The restaurant declined to comment further when contacted by Global News.
Gordon Stewart, the executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia, agreed. He said it’s “sad” to see Nova Scotians acting this way.
“On a personal side, I think it’s very, very selfish. They’re all about themselves. They don’t care about their community, they don’t care about the health of other people,” he said.
“Somehow they think their rights have been trampled on, but these are the same people that wear seatbelts, and they’re the same people that ride on the right side of the road. … They just picked on this particular thing, and it’s a very selfish, all-about-me thing.”
‘It’s not fair’
In a statement, Halifax Regional Police said officers responded to the area at 6:20 p.m. on Friday, where a group of people were “sitting on the roadway and eating food.”
Officers remained at the scene to monitor the group and ensure the protestors weren’t blocking business entrances. The group disbanded around 8:30 p.m. No arrests were made and no summary offence tickets were issued.
“Our approach continues to be a combination of education and enforcement, and we will enforce as necessary,” the statement said.
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston has urged people to not blame or harass restaurants over the proof of vaccination mandate, telling people during a recent COVID-19 briefing to “flip me the bird” if they have a problem with it, rather than taking it out on staff.
It’s “a good message,” said Stewart, “but I think it’s got to get a lot tougher than words.”
“I don’t mind them protesting, that’s not the issue. When they interrupt people and make the employees nervous, that’s not fair. It’s not fair to employees, it’s not fair to the business owner,” he said.
“It is the province’s mandate, and we’re having to execute it.”
Stewart said he would like to see a more proactive approach from the province and the police in terms of enforcing the mandate and ensuring access to restaurants isn’t impeded.
Paul MacKinnon, the CEO of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, tweeted a photo of the protest sent to him on Friday night, with the caption, “Not cool.”
MacKinnon, who saw part of the demonstration after the police had arrived, said it’s “unfortunate” that restaurants are being targeted for a policy enacted by the provincial government.
“They’re simply following the law, the same way they’d check for proof of ID for someone under 19 who wants to order a drink,” he said.
MacKinnon, like Houston, urged people to take up their concerns with the provincial government rather than restaurant workers.
“They want to make their voices heard and they want to be in a public place that’s visible, but they really shouldn’t be trying to negatively impact businesses,” he said.
“Businesses have been hurt throughout this entire pandemic, in particular the restaurant sector. I don’t think that’s the way to be most effective in their messaging.”
MacKinnon said overall, he hasn’t heard any pushback from the restaurant industry over the proof of vaccine mandate itself, though there are concerns about it attracting protesters.
Another road bump
Stewart, with the restaurant association, said while it does create an “extra burden” for staff and employees, the vaccine requirement is a “necessary step” to keep restaurants safe — especially considering the COVID-19 situation in other provinces, including neighbouring New Brunswick.
“The last thing our industry wants to do is get closed down again. That would be devastating,” he said.
He’s optimistic that more people will accept the rule as time goes on, saying “it’s just a road bump for us, and people will get used to it.”
In the meantime, Stewart has a message for people who are considering attending similar protests in the future.
“Stop thinking about yourself. Think about your community, think about the health of other people.”