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Here's How Montreal Store & Restaurant Workers Feel About Quebec's New Mask Rule

Workers and business owners are responsible for enforcing the rule.
Contributing Writer
Here's How Montreal Store & Restaurant Workers Feel About Quebec's New Mask Rule

On Saturday, the province will begin requiring face coverings in all enclosed public places in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Quebec. But inside Pizzédélic on Monkland, at least one staff member isn't that happy about Quebec's new face mask rule. While most customers do come in with face coverings, Pavlina, a waitress, is worried about confronting those who are unwilling to wear them.  

"You have to say 'no' and that could bring some conflict with clients," she said. "So, it's not necessarily a fun new thing that we're going to have to do as workers. It complicates things a bit."  

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As more of the city reopens, the province is turning to businesses to help enforce its mandatory mask rule but Pavlina doesn't "think that that's necessarily very fair."  

The mask rule applies to everyone aged 12 and up, though people with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing face coverings will be exempt.

Business owners that fail to comply could risk fines as high as $6,000.  

"We need the collaboration of the owners of shops," Premier Legault said during Monday's COVID-19 update.

"We need them to at least inform the clients that they have to wear a mask. [...] If we don't have their collaboration, it means they don't respect the law and we'll have to give them some penalties."  

When asked what advice he had for low-wage retail workers — that already face greater risk because they work with people all day — if they're confronted by a customer who refuses to mask up, Legault said they should call the police.  

"They don't need to have somebody with big arms doing the job," he said, implying there's no need for workers to act as security guards.  

The government might consider imposing fines on customers who break the rules starting in August, he said.  

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) has come out against the province-wide mask mandate, arguing companies should not be held liable for their customers' behaviour.  

Gopinath Jeyabalaratnam, Quebec public policy director for the CFIB, said his organization does support mandating face coverings in public to avoid another lockdown because "that would be terrible for many businesses. Some might not survive," he said.  

"But what we don't understand is why the businessman and businesswoman, the shopkeepers, have to pay for the irresponsible actions of the consumers and customers who don't want to comply with what the government is saying," he continued.

"This is some kind of nonsense, asking someone to pay for the misconduct of someone else."  

Jeyabalaratnam pointed out that a recent petition to cancel mandatory mask-wearing in Quebec had received over 50,000 signatures.

"Those people are going to be shopping in our stores and they're going to be rejecting the obligation of wearing this mask," he said.

"Shopkeepers will have to play police and small teenagers who are working there, 17 or 18 years old, will have to confront big guys who don't want to comply."  

He also said small businesses, already hurt by the novel coronavirus, could face more devastation due to the mask law, citing a recent report that found about three-quarters of small businesses in Canada have gone into debt as a result of the pandemic.  

"We're talking about $127,000 average debt for (small and medium-sized enterprises) in Quebec," he said.

"So, we are really under a lot of pressure. It's not time to add more pressure on them."  

But some local business owners are welcoming the new law, especially if they've already set their own internal "no mask, no service" policies.  

"I'm super happy, I think it's great. It means that employees' safety is being considered," said Rebecca Lloyd, manager of the Drawn & Quarterly bookstore on De L'Esplanade Street.  

"I know that as a business, we had the right to tell people that they couldn't come in without a mask but that puts more pressure on us to set the precedent," she said.

"Whereas if it's a law, then everybody knows it's the law and you just need to do it. And I feel like there will be less complaints."  

Drawn & Quarterly is not open for browsing yet. Instead, they have been doing sales and pickups from their entrance, which has been working "because it's nice out," said Lloyd. "And we'll do it as long as it makes sense for us."  

If and when they reopen for browsing, a mask requirement for customers, "would have been our policy anyways," she said.   

Mikey Levy, owner of Banh Mi Banh Yiu on Saint-Viateur, is also welcoming the mask law.  

"The burden is on us," he said. "We've never faced a global pandemic before like this and it's totally up to us to do our part."  

However, wearing a face mask while working in a hot kitchen has taken some getting used to, he said.  

"To be honest, it's horrible, it's super uncomfortable but there's no choice, we work through it," he said.

"Gloves, mask, whatever it may be. I'm not out here to break the law."  

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