The owner of an Orillia restaurant has been fined $10,000 for failing to comply with the Reopening Ontario Act.
At a virtual hearing today at the Provincial Offences Court in Orillia, it was disclosed that on Feb. 27, 2021, St. Louis Bar and Grill served 16 people in its west Orillia restaurant, which was six over the capacity restrictions under the public health measures that were in place at that time to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Shannon Kelly, a certified public health inspector and designated provincial offences officer with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health unit, charged restaurant owner Brad Watters with the offence.
Today in court, Kelly testified she attempted to work with Watters by offering education and warnings after the health unit received numerous COVID-compliance complaints dating back to September 2020.
“Our goal is to provide education and ensuring that operators are adhering to the regulation to stop the spread of COVID-19," she told the court Wednesday morning.
On Feb. 26, Kelly says Watters admitted to operating the restaurant at overcapacity. He told her that trying to maintain 10 customers was not feasible.
Watters told Kelly that with a total lockdown projected to be on the way and $7,000 of alcohol behind the bar, he was prepared to open the restaurant to full capacity during the weekend of Feb. 27 to sell off the alcohol.
“He admitted that he sat over 10 (customers) in red (zone) before Christmas,” she read from her reports. “He is only letting his 'regulars' in his premises, no one will complain (he said).”
After Watters refused to operate within the mandates, Kelly felt it was her duty to charge Watters for the offence.
Saying there was only around 150 cases of COVID-19 in Orillia at the time, Watters told Kelly there was no need to have a capacity restriction of 10. Watters also expressed to Kelly that he was uncomfortable forcing customers to wear masks while walking around the restaurant and wanted them to feel “human.”
Watters' lawyer, Charles Manners, claimed Kelly’s reports had an inaccuracy. Kelly filed her Feb. 26 warning to Watters inaccurately under Feb. 27, the same day as the charge, he said.
However, the Justice of Peace, H.W. R. Prestage, was not swayed and found Watters guilty, noting Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario inspector, Stephen Hetherington, alongside two OPP officers, also observed a crowded 685 University Ave. restaurant on Feb. 27.
Prestage sentenced Watters to pay $10,000 within a six-month period.
Manners said he found the ruling to be unfair.
“In real numbers, we are talking about six patrons over the max of ten patrons in a restaurant that seats around 130,” he said. “The profit that would have been generated from those extra six would have been very small.”
Manners said St. Louis Bar and Grill has a long reputation of community involvement. The restaurant sponsors multiple sports teams in the area. A $10,000 fine may completely limit the restaurant's ability to do that type of charity work going forward, said Manners.
“He (Watters) is not some corporate monster,” Manners said. “He’s a guy trying to run a restaurant. A $10,000 fine is just simply beyond reasonable.”
Manners asked the Justice of the Peace to lower the fine to $1,000. His request was denied.
“There is a reason for this Act and it’s for the safety of the community,” Prestage said. “Mr. Watters was aware of his responsibilities and was aware that he deliberately did not fulfill his responsibilities to his community.”
The Justice of Peace said he is taking a very strict stance on the matter and noted he takes the mandates very seriously.
“There are thousands and millions of people who have died as of a result of this (virus),” Prestage said. “We have a responsibility as a community to try to help health and safety.”
Watters declined OrilliaMatters' request for a comment on this article.