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Ontario declares State of Emergency

C-stores and gas stations to remain open as essential services

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In a bid to combat rising COVID-19 numbers, Ontario issuing a stay-at-home order and issuing enhanced enforcement measures to reduce mobility. For c-stores, which are considered an essential service, here’s what you need to know:

  • As part of the efforts, effective Thursday, January 14, 2021at 12:01 a.m., everyone is to remain at home with exceptions for essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services, for exercise or for essential work.
  • All non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and those offering curbside pickup or delivery, must open no earlier than 7 a.m. and close no later than 8 p.m.
  • The restricted hours of operation do not apply to stores that primarily sell food, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants for takeout or delivery.

“The latest modelling data shows that Ontario is in a crisis and, with the current trends, our hospital ICUs will be overwhelmed in a few short weeks with unthinkable consequences,” said Premier Ford. “That’s why we are taking urgent and decisive action, which includes declaring a provincial emergency and imposing a stay-at-home-order. We need people to only go out only for essential trips to pick up groceries or go to medical appointments. By doing the right thing and staying home, you can stay safe and save lives.”

Individuals are required to wear a mask or face covering in the indoor areas of businesses or organizations that are open. In addition, wearing a mask or face covering is now recommended outdoors when you can’t physically distance more than two metres.

Under the declaration of a provincial emergency, the province will provide authority to all enforcement and provincial offences officers (Ontario Provincial Police, local police forces, bylaw officers, and provincial workplace inspectors) to issue tickets to individuals who do not comply with the stay-at-home-order, or those not wearing a mask or face covering indoors, as well as retail operators and companies who do not enforce. Those who decide not to abide by orders will be subject to set fines and/or prosecution.

In addition, enforcement personnel will have the authority to temporarily close a premise that is in contravention of an order.

“Extraordinary action is needed to protect the health and safety of Ontarians as we deal with this growing crisis,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “Our government is providing police and bylaw officers with the tools, and the authority, they need to enforce these critical restrictions and protect public health.”

READ: Quebec’s curfew impacts c-stores


Ontario surpasses 5,000 reported COVID-19 deaths as cabinet debates new restrictions

New restrictions to fight skyrocketing rates of COVID-19 were being considered by Ontario’s cabinet Monday night, although a curfew was not one of them.

The discussion took place as the province hit the grim milestone of recording more than 5,000 deaths from the virus since the start of the pandemic.

Premier Doug Ford said residents can expect an announcement on new measures on Tuesday, when the province will also make new COVID-19 projections public.

“We worked all weekend … right until late hours last night,” he said as he arrived at the legislature ahead of Monday night’s cabinet meeting.

“We’ll be going to cabinet with recommendations.”

Ford did not elaborate on the recommendations but has said the current provincial lockdown may need to be extended and stricter measures could be imposed if cases continue to soar.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate medical officer of health, said a curfew was not among the recommendations going before cabinet, adding that she had seen no evidence one would be effective.

She noted, however, that current trends in the province were “scary” and said as many as a third of residents surveyed reported they are not following public health guidelines.

“The bottom line is people know what they should be doing,” she said. “It’s a shame that we have to wait for government to force them into doing the right thing.”

The latest spike in cases can be attributed in part to people gathering over the holidays, growing outbreaks in long-term care and retirement homes, and workplace outbreaks, Yaffe said.

More must be done to help residents comply with public health rules, she said, including instituting paid sick days, bringing in eviction protections, and making isolation hotels available.

“It’s not going to be an easy few weeks,” Yaffe said. “But what these trends demonstrate is that further actions are necessary.”

Officials in government and health-care have warned that surging cases are putting great strain on the health-care system.

Projections made public in late December showed that Ontario’s ability to control the spread of COVID-19 was “precarious,” but tough lockdowns lasting a month or more could cut the number of daily cases significantly.

That data, released on Dec. 21, showed that if COVID-19 case rates continued to grow between one to three per cent, the province would have 3,000 to 5,000 daily cases by the end of January.

Ontario has recorded well over 3,000 cases daily for the last week, with 3,338 new cases reported Monday.

It also reported 29 new deaths from COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the total number of deaths reported to 5,012 since the start of the pandemic.

The government said 1,563 people are currently hospitalized with the virus, with 387 people in intensive care and 268 on ventilators.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath accused the Ford government of “stalling” on new public health restrictions, a move she said will cost lives.

“Tougher measures are not only overdue, they must be backed by a major investment in immediate supports like paid sick days for every Ontarian, safe isolation facilities, and direct financial help for small business owners and individuals,” she said in a statement.

Liberal health critic John Fraser said the government is displaying a “lack of urgency” despite the rising death toll from the virus.

“We have seen firsthand how delays cost lives,” he said in a statement. “Time is our greatest asset during a pandemic.”

Meanwhile, the medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex said that his hard-hit region has now completed the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations in all its long-term care homes.

The provincial government pledged last week to give COVID-19 vaccines by Jan. 21 to all long-term care residents, workers and caregivers in hot-spot regions.

Dr. Wajid Ahmed said Monday that he believed Windsor-Essex had become the first health unit in the province to accomplish the goal.

“Our long-term care homes have seen the worst of the outbreaks,” he said. “They have really come through. They really worked with us to get all of this done ahead of schedule.”

On Monday, Ontario reported giving 8,859 more doses of the vaccine since its last daily update, with 122,105 total doses now administered.


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Quebec curfew impacts c-stores – here’s what you need to know

Shutterstock_curfewQuebec dépanneurs are feeling the repercussions of Quebec’s curfew.

According to a CBC report, “owners say their most lucrative hours are about to be taken away, as most residents are required to be in their homes from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. each night.

“The four hours until 11 p.m. have the highest turnover. Now, they are cutting it,” says Michel Youssef, the owner of Dépanneur Beau Soir in St-Henri.

Until now, convenience stores across the country have been spared the tight restrictions imposed on other retailers. While c-stores have had to work hard to make their stores safe and limit the number of customers inside at one time, they were deemed an essential service in the early days of the pandemic.

In fact, c-stores were lauded for their role helping Canadians access the products and services they needed, especially when some of the larger grocery stores were plagued with line-ups and shortages on everything from baking supplies to cleaning products and, yes, toilet paper.

“I hope people will adapt to the changes and come a bit earlier to pick up their things, otherwise it’ll result in a big drop in sales,” Youssef told CBC.

With the curfew that come into play on Saturday January 9 and is expected to remain in place until February 8.

In a statement on it’s website, the Convenience Industry Council of Canada outlined how the issues affects the industry:

  • c-store employees’ shift must end at 7:30pm so that they are able to respect the curfew
  • the Quebec government will be providing a special pass for workers that need to travel to and  from their workplace past curfew; these passes should be available in the next few days
  • dépanneurs operating a gas station will be allowed to remain open beyond the curfew are to sell all products except alcoholic beverages past 8pm
  • c-stores will not be held responsible for policing clients who should not be out during curfew
  • store gas stations will not be permitted to deliver during curfew hours.

Quebec is the only province with a curfew in place at the moment, however, as numbers continued to spiral in Ontario, there was speculation one could be imposed in the province.

Last week, the Convenience Industry Council of Canada Convenience wrote to the Ford government asking the Ontario “to exempt gas stations and convenience stores from further restrictions, including a curfew, should one be considered.” The organization points out that c-stores provide essential goods to frontline and shift workers 24 hrs/day.

On January 12, Ontario declared a State of Emergency and new measures, but stopped short of imposing a curfew. C-stores and gas stations would remain open as essential services.


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Ontario makes changes to liquor rules, allows permanent delivery of alcohol with food

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Ontario will allow restaurants to permanently sell alcohol with food takeout and delivery as it makes changes to support the industry through the pandemic.

The province announced the change Wednesday night along with other relief measures.

Attorney General Doug Downey says the changes are meant to support the sector that has struggled with shutdowns and regulatory changes during COVID-19.

Other permanent changes include nixing a licensing requirement for third-party delivery services and reducing the price of spirits consumed on-site.

Licensed operators may also serve alcohol on docked boats under the new rules, and alcoholic drinks can be included in delivered food boxes and meal kits.

The province will also allow alcohol manufacturers to deliver their own products and to sell spirits and wine at farmers markets.

No word, yet, on when beer and wine will also be available in convenience stores.


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Ontario hikes ethanol content

Screen Shot 2020-11-30 at 12.23.43 PMThe province of Ontario has announced it will increase the requirements for ethanol in gasoline. Currently, ethanol content must be 10%. By 2030 fuel retailers will have to offer blended gasoline with an ethanol content of 15%.

The move will be gradual. The province is mandating changes starting in 2025 when ethanol content moves up to 11% from 10%. By 2028 ethanol content must by 13% with the final target of 15% reached by 2030.

The changes will impact greenhouse gas emissions. Ontario projects that the new regulation will amount to having 300,000 cars taken off the roads.

Ontario farmers are positive about the change that will see more corn planted and more demand for their crop. The new E15 ethanol blend will see farms up their acreage from the current three million tonnes that are grown now to produce E10 blended fuels.

Ontario is the first province to go this far with an ethanol program.

“We know about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the province come from transportation, which is why increasing the amount of renewable content in gasoline is such an important step towards fighting climate change and driving down emissions,” said Ontario Environment Minister Jeff Yurek.


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Ontario’s Main Street Relief Grant: Does your c-store qualify?

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Ontario’s Main Street Relief Grant is designed to help small businesses with the unexpected costs of PPE.

To be eligible, c-stores must have two to nine employees to be eligible for grants of up to $1,000.

To apply, you’ll need to submit receipts or proof of costs for PPE purchased since March 17, 2020. This includes:

  • gloves, gowns, face shields, eye protection, masks, sanitizer, sanitizing wipes
  • thermometers, temperature monitors or cameras
  • physical changes, including the installation of hand sanitizer stations and plexiglass dividers
  • signs to guide or inform customers and employees

As essential services, most convenience stores moved quickly to invest early in PPE with masks, counter shields. floor directional decals and sanitizing stations to keep staff and customers safe. Ongoing purchases of up to $1,000 will be eligible.

“The OCSA has lobbied the government since last March to help offset costs for our stores to serve in every community and pleased they have listened,” says OCSA CEO Dave Bryans. “Keep in mind all eligible stores can still order additional safety products as part of these relieve funds to continue to operate safely.

Click here to apply for funding. 


MPP Deepak Anand presents Bill 231.

Ontario’s gas and dash bill passes second reading

MPP Deepak Anand presents Bill 231.

MPP Deepak Anand presents Bill 231.

Gas theft across Ontario continues to be an issue, but relief may be imminent.

Bill 231 – Protecting Ontarians by Enhancing Gas Station Safety to Prevent Gas and Dash Act, 2020 – has passed second reading and is one step closer to becoming law.
While prepayment for fuel is already mandated in British Columbia and Alberta, as well as many states in the U.S., Ontario had yet to pass any similar legislation, despite calls from the industry to do so.  The tragic killing of Toronto gas attendant Jayesh Prajapati in 2012 sparked drew attention to the issue of gas theft in the province and led to calls for a mandated change to the system.

The Private Member bill is led by Mississauga-Malton MPP Deepak Anand, who said on Facebook that he is “thrilled” the bill is moving forward: “This Bill amends the Occupational Health and Safety Act, making sure employers at gas stations ask customers to prepay before filling gasoline. The act is also amended to require employers to provide training to workers involved in the sale of gasoline. Once implemented, this Bill will make sure employees at the gas station, bystanders in the gas station premises are safe, as no one will be able to run away without payment at the gas station.”
In his presentation, Anand spoke about the grief suffered by families whose loved ones have been killed or hurt during gas and dash incidents.
In a statement, Dave Bryans, CEO of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, said his organization has been “supportive and helpful” with the government on this bill for a number of reasons:
A) Our industry has experienced year over year increases in gas thefts through drive offs
B) Employee and customer safety is paramount to the future of the convenience gas business in Ontario
C) Losses for family run gas sites have increased with no expectation of increased enforcement throughout Ontario
D) Implementing this Bill will eliminate thousands of drive offs every year, allowing the convenience operators to concentrate on daily business issues.
E) Customers and businesses in other jurisdictions where prepay has been implemented have seen no loss of business
F) A level playing field for all gas sites will insure a quick adjustment period for ease of implementation.
It’s worth noting, there would be some exemptions when it comes to compliance, such as independent gas sites that have old pumps, which would be allowed to continue with normal business practises until they were able to install new pumps with new technology.
The OCSA said that as the Bill is being reviewed by the Standing Committee, it may “call on independent gas retailers to participate in the process to encourage a level playing field as well as a quick approval of Bill 231.”

Review Bill 231 here


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Toronto COVID 19 lockdown will have ‘major impact’ on residents and businesses, says councillor

Convenience stores will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity

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Toronto and Peel Region will enter the province’s Lockdown level effective Monday, Nov. 23, Premier Doug Ford announced on Friday afternoon.

It means restaurants, bars, and other food and drink establishments will only be able to provide takeout. Indoor dining and patio dining has been prohibited.

Personal care services such as barbershops and salons will be closed. Casinos, bingo halls, and other gaming establishments will be closed. Indoor sports and recreational facilities will be closed.

Essential retail such as grocery stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, hardware stores, discount and big box retailers selling groceries, liquor stores, safety supply stores, and convenience stores will be allowed to operate at 50%t capacity.

Non-essential retail will be closed and will have to operate through curbside pickup or online delivery. Wedding services, funeral services, and religious services can have up to 10 people indoors or 10 people outdoors. Outdoor organized public events or social gatherings will be limited to 10 people.

Residents are asked to stay at home and go out for essential needs only. No indoor organized events or social gatherings are permitted. Individuals who live alone, including seniors, can have exclusive contact with another person.

Schools and child care centres will remain open.

The Lockdown order follows a continuing steady rise of cases in Ontario, with 80 per cent of new cases in Red Zone regions in and around the Greater Toronto Area.

Hospitalizations have increased by 22 per cent, and ICU admittance grew by 50 per cent, Ford said. The Premier added that if the restrictive actions were not taken, the province would see up to 6,000 daily cases in the coming weeks.

“This virus, it spreads like wildfire,” Ford said. “And in certain parts of the province it’s spreading at an alarming rate.”

He explained that if the lockdown measures aren’t taken then it risks overwhelming the province’s hospitals and ICUs, reminding Ontarians that the “situation is extremely serious.”

The new health measures will be in place until Dec. 21.

The province also announced $600 million in business relief (up from its initial announcement of $300 million). Eligible businesses can apply online for a temporary property tax and energy cost rebate grants.

The rebates will cover the length of time the business is required to close. Most businesses can expect to receive rebate payments within a few weeks of submitting an online application at Ontario.ca/covidsupport

Ford’s announcement follows Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s earlier announcement Friday, Nov. 20, morning.

“This is for the future of our country, our children, our loved ones, our seniors, its economy, our businesses,” he said, asking Canadians to stay at home as cases spike across the country.

“Another few weeks, another few months, we can do this, we’ve done it before, we know what to do, we understand this virus much better than before, we need to reduce our contacts, we need to do it right now,” the Prime Minister added.

As of Nov. 20, Ontario reached more than 100,000 cases, and 3,451 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic this year. There are 518 patients hospitalized, 142 in ICU, and 92 on a ventilator, with the numbers continuing to grow.

Both Toronto and Peel have seen roughly 300 to 500 new cases each day for the last three weeks.

Toronto had a total 35,040 cases as of Nov. 20 since the beginning of the pandemic, currently it has 4,398 active cases. Almost 1,500 Torontonians have died this year as a result of COVID-19.

Across the city, COVID-19 has spread in varying degrees. While the northwest and Scarborough remain hardest hit, it has spread quickly through some parts of East Toronto and neighbourhoods surrounding the Danforth, including outbreaks in local long-term care homes.

As per Toronto Public Health data, in the last 21 days the Beach had six cases, East End-Danforth had 21 cases, Taylor-Massey had 47, Danforth and Danforth-East York had 13 and 18 respectively, and Greenwood-Coxwell recorded 24 cases.

The caseload per 100,000 is dire in Taylor-Massey (Crescent Town) where there are 300 cases per 100,000 in the last three weeks.

Beaches-East York NDP MPP Rima Berns-McGown said the emergency public health measures announced on Friday aren’t enough to stop the spread.

“Until Ford makes the connection that he needs to support vulnerable workers and communities, we will not be able to get this virus under control,” she said.

“It will cost the economy more in the long run than it would to invest in the workers, communities and small businesses that need immediate help.”

Berns-McGown added the province “wouldn’t have been in this situation” if Ford had taken public health advice that included more testing and contact tracing. The Premier has responded to criticism by saying he listens to all the medical advice he receives from Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, who was present and also spoke at Friday’s press conference.

As per the NDP’s repeated requests this year, Berns-McGown said the reduction of school class sizes, allowing workers to have paid sick days to stay home when they’re ill, and an emergency moratorium on evictions is what would actually make a difference in bending the curve of COVID-19 cases.

“One of the reasons we are in this nightmare is that many of our frontline workers are low-income earners who can’t afford to stay home when they are sick. So they don’t know if they will be evicted if they fall behind in their rent,” she said.

Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford, who had been monitoring the effect the pandemic has had on local businesses, said the lockdown is very worrying.

“As I talk to community members across Beaches-East York, I know another lockdown is going to have major impacts on our physical, economic and mental health,” he said. “Our local businesses have been hard hit. We hear a lot about the hospitality sector but our other local staples like gyms, yoga studios and other recreational activities are really hurting. I share a lot of the sentiments I’m hearing about the approach and communications on managing this crisis being confusing and seeming inconsistent.”

“While it’s sometimes hard to understand one specific decision over another, it’s clear that we need to take the public health advice seriously,” Bradford added.

Earlier moves by the city that had allowed restaurants and bars to offer outdoor patio service and space over the winter, will be ineffective during the lockdown.

Local politicians, business owners, and the Premier are all imploring residents to shop local and order takeout to help weather the economic fallout of the lockdown.

The Premier also told Ontarians to “avoid panic buying” as supply lines remain open and continuous.

While Toronto and Peel moved into Lockdown stage, Durham and Waterloo were moved to Red, and other health units across Ontario moved to Orange or Yellow.

At the press conference, Dr. Williams asked Ontarians in high-risk zones to avoid travel to lower-risk zones during the lockdown.


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C-stores shouldn’t be responsible for policing mask rules: CICC

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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.”


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PHUs have ‘discretion’ when enforcing Ontario’s new vape rules: Ministry

C-stores not in compliance run the risk of being charged

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It’s fair to say the messaging around Ontario’s new vaping regulations is confusing for operators and other industry stakeholders. As, CSNC has reported, implementation of the new regulations kicked in July 1, after being delayed from May 1.

READ: Ontario sticks with July 1 for new vaping rules

Industry advocates had asked for more time, citing concerns about the pressure operators were under to keep their businesses up and running as essential services during the pandemic panic, as well as ongoing need for social distancing between vendors and operators.

READ: Ontario agrees to delay enforcement of new vaping rules

The Ministry of Health agreed to focus on initial education, rather than in enforcement and in a statement last month said: “The Ministry expects businesses to continue to make best efforts to comply with these upcoming regulatory changes despite the circumstances and is not delaying the implementation of these amendments. The Ministry is however encouraging PHUs (public health units) to work with retailers to ensure compliance by providing and prioritizing education and awareness in the first few months of implementation. Consideration should be given to employing this approach until December 31, 2020.”

However, with PHUs in charge of oversight, it is important for c-store operators to note that this “consideration” will differ across the province.

In a new memo (printed in its entirety below), Dianne Alexander, director Health Promotion and Prevention Policy and Programs Branch, Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Public Health Ministry of Health, attempts to clear up any confusion,  writing: “This means that SFOA inspectors maintain their discretion to lay charges for non-compliance with the new regulatory requirements where circumstances warrant.”

This latest statement appears to contradict the earlier messaging from the Ministry, which talked about leeway until December 31.

The bottom line is that c-stores are responsible for compliance and run the risk of facing charges at the discretion of their local PHU. With that in mind, it’s worth stressing that, as of July 1, operators are no longer permitted to sell:

  • Various flavoured vapour products, such as mango (c-stores can only sell tobacco, menthol and mint flavoured vapour products);
  • Vapour products with high nicotine concentrations (greater than 20 mg/ml).
From the Ministry of Health:
Dear Industry Stakeholders,
The Ministry of Health (‘ministry’) has recently been made aware of communications circulating among retailers from industry representatives about the implementation and enforcement of the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017 (SFOA, 2017) regulatory amendments that came into effect on July 1, 2020. The ministry takes this opportunity to provide clarity to ensure that the industry representatives and retailers are aware of the expectations for compliance with the regulatory amendments.
As previously communicated, the ministry is aware of the impact that COVID-19 is having on the normal operation of businesses. However, despite these circumstances, the Ontario government is not delaying the implementation of the regulatory amendments to the SFOA, 2017 that came into force on July 1, 2020. This means that, as of July 1, 2020, businesses are expected to comply with the regulatory amendments and Public Health Unit SFOA inspectors will be responsible for assessing compliance.
As with any requirement under the SFOA, 2017, SFOA inspectors will employ a progressive enforcement approach to achieve compliance with the new regulatory amendments through a balance of education, inspection and the use of warnings and graduated charging options to reflect the frequency and severity of non-compliance.
The ministry acknowledges that the timeline for achieving compliance may be impacted by the reduced or limited operational capacity of retailers during this time. Therefore, the ministry has asked SFOA inspectors to first prioritize education and awareness of the new requirements to support compliance among businesses. The ministry is encouraging SFOA inspectors to work collaboratively with non-specialty retailers to ensure prohibited vapour products are removed from stores, which may include returning flavoured vapour products and high nicotine-containing vapour products to suppliers (e.g., manufacturers and wholesalers) in order to comply with the new SFOA, 2017 regulatory requirements.
SFOA inspectors are provincial offences officers under the Provincial Offences Act and exercise independence in their approach to enforcing the SFOA, 2017. This means that SFOA inspectors maintain their discretion to lay charges for non-compliance with the new regulatory requirements where circumstances warrant.
The ministry hopes this information has been helpful and provides clarity with respect to enforcement of the new regulatory amendments. The ministry requests that you clarify the expectations around compliance with your respective retail partners as soon as possible.
Dianne
Dianne Alexander
Director, Health Promotion and Prevention Policy and Programs Branch
Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Public Health
Ministry of Health