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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


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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.”