The Convenience Industry Council of Canada (CICC) is speaking out against the decision of some provinces and municipalities to make retailers liable for customers’ refusal to wear face masks.
“The first priority of the small business operators we represent is the health and safety of our employees and our customers. Convenience retailers have continually made their best efforts to ensure that customers and staff comply with all public health orders, including the increasing number of mandatory face mask requirements being implemented across the country,” said Anne Kothawala, president and CEO of the CICC.
Quebec is the first province to make mask-wearing mandatory in all public spaces, including retail stores, as of July 18, 2020. Businesses will be expected to enforce the new rules and are subject to fines of between $400 and $6,000 if their customers are caught violating the health directive.
Several municipalities across Ontario, including Toronto, are also making mask mandatory and putting the onus on retailers to enforce compliance or refuse service. Those who are not in compliance risk fines.
The move unfairly places the ultimate responsibility for customer compliance on small business owners, who not also face financial penalties, but, as is surfacing in several media report, physical and verbal abuse from some customers who refuse to comply.
“Individual retailers should not be held liable for customers’ refusal to comply with public health orders,” said Kothawala. “Convenience retailers should be required to ensure that they have a policy in place, that the policy is communicated to all staff and customers, and that their best efforts to ensure compliance have been made, but ultimately it should be an individual’s responsibility to comply with the law.”
Some people, including children under 12 and those with certain medical conditions, are not required to wear masks, but how is a retailer or small business owner expected to know who falls into this category?
“Given the variety of human rights exemptions to this policy that exist, and the inability of retailers to demand proof of exemption, it is unreasonable to expect customer service staff to perform the duties of the police or risk significant fines,” says Kothawala, adding that operators and staff are risk of abuse if they are forced to confront shoppers not wearing masks. “We have a responsibility to protect our employees and customers from these types of altercations. Our role should be to de-escalate these situations, not to play part-time police.”