Police swoop on store open on Good Friday
Retail outlets in Ottawa that defy a provincial law that requires them to shut for religious holidays as well as secular ones can be heavily fined.
Oh yes. And yesterday, Whole Foods at Lansdowne had a visit from Ottawa plods acting on a complaint from someone who objected to the owners opening its doors on “No Food Friday”.
According to this report, the police confirmed the store had defied the law, and they will now turn the case over to the district investigations unit which will follow up the violation with provincial prosecutors once they are back at work Tuesday.
It may take several days to determine whether or not Whole Foods will be fined.
The police visit has ignited a debate over whether such rules are outdated.
Retail outlets that open on prohibited days – such as Good Friday – can be fined as much as $50,000 or the total amount of gross sales for the holiday, whichever is greater. Businesses face minimum fines of $500 for a first offence, $2,000 for a second offence and $5,000 for a third or subsequent offence.
A worker reached at Whole Foods on Friday morning referred inquiries to the company’s corporate communications department. But store manager Lisa Slater had earlier told media the store would stay open Good Friday and Easter Sunday in order to:
Be here for our community. The community is out and about, they’re not working and we want to be able to serve the community and give them what they want.
The store was packed at mid-day. There were long lines at the checkouts and shoppers leaving with bags of groceries.
One customer, Katherine Sibun, said that she worked late Thursday and didn’t have time to pick up things for the long weekend. She came to Whole Foods knowing it was planning to open and said she’d like to see the law amended.
I don’t agree with it [the law] at all. It’s a bit religiously exclusive. Nobody has access because of a Christian holiday – I find that problematic.
But support for Whole Foods, a US retailer, was not universal.
Said Nepean-Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod:
As Ontarians, we don’t get to pick and choose which laws we obey. Over the years I have heard from many law-abiding retailers who are concerned with companies like Whole Foods who thumb their nose at the rules and by extension the Legislature, in essence creating an unlevel playing field.
MacLeod said the company has never, in her four terms as an MPP, met with her to demand changes to the law, nor has she heard widespread suggestions that it needs to be changed.
Until such time the Ontario Legislature considers changing retail laws, Whole Foods should stop breaking the current ones.
Labour groups have also called on authorities to enforce the law and say people who work in the retail sector deserve a day off to rest and spend time with family.
The city has said it’s up to police to enforce the law.
Ontario’s Retail Business Holidays Act lets some businesses stay open on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but also seeks to provide consumers and employees with a common day of pause.
Retail outlets that can stay open include:
• Stores that sell handicrafts
• Book or magazine stores that are less than 2,400 square feet with a maximum of three employees
• Pharmacies that are less than 7,500 square feet in size
• Nurseries, flower shops, gardening centres
• Gas stations.
Stores may also remain open in locations established as tourist areas by specific municipal bylaws.
The province requires retail businesses to close on nine specified days each year. Not all closure days – such as Labour Day, New Year’s Day and Canada Day – are religious.
The City of Toronto has enacted a law that essentially exempts it from the province’s rules.
Incidentally, working on the correct assumption that the regular supermarkets would be shut in my part of Spain on Good Friday, I headed to an out-of-town Carrefour megastore – which remains open all year round – to stock up on some much needed booze. Oh, and a free-range, corn-fed chicken for our Sunday roast. To my utter disgust, the only birds available were not free range, and had “halal” stamped on the packaging.
Anyone up for some roast pork?