Alberta Health Services may be missing the mark in their quest to protect bar-hopping Calgarians from further spread of COVID 19, according to one city club owner.
Greg Smith, owner of The Blues Can, has found himself at odds with the province’s health authority as they continue to push for stricter COVID-19 regulations at the bar.
“It’s targeted harassment, and it needs to stop,” said Smith.
Since reopening in July, The Blues Can has focused on implementing safety precautions to protect against the spread of COVID 19. They have patron spacing, have installed plexiglass barriers, and mask enforcement.
“We had cloth masks made that we were charging customers for at first, but now we just give them away,” said project manager Teena Wilson.
“At this point, they’re an investment in the bar.”
Smooth sailing at first
Smith said initially the visits from AHS were civil and constructive.
“We’re happy to comply. We want to protect our customers, our staff, and our performers, and do whatever we can to keep this place open,” said Smith.
Despite the bars efforts, inspections became more frequent, and more hostile.
Smith said the inspectors have become increasingly more demanding, with every visit seeming to contradict the one before it.
“They asked us to install plexiglass at the bar, so we did. Then they come back a week later and say now we have to seal it off entirely, forcing the bartender to walk around the bar just to serve a drink,” said Smith.
“There’s no common sense involved. It’s arbitrary, and it isn’t keeping anyone any safer.”
Going overboard on inspections
The inspections take place during the day as well as during peak weekend hours, meaning they often deal with a different inspector for each visit.
“They sit there trying to interpret the previous guy’s notes, and when we try to ask questions or work with them, they get defensive because they think we’re questioning their authority,” said Smith, putting air quotes around the word “authority.”
“It’s pure ego.”
During one visit, an inspector reiterated a previous inspector’s note about a small gap in a door that needed to be fixed, but wrote the wrong door down on their report.
“They’re just regurgitating each other’s notes, and that gap in the door has nothing to do with COVID safety protocol,” said Wilson.
“They aren’t allowed to give anyone a hundred per cent, so they walk around trying to nitpick any little violation they can find,” said Smith.
Using unnecessary force
Evening inspections require the bar to pause operations, and inspectors are accompanied by police.
“They show up with cops, interrupt the live music, and even force people to stand up in the middle of their meals so they can move tables a foot to the left or right,” said Smith.
“Some customers just leave. They don’t need that mess.”
James Woods with AHS said that no businesses are targeted for inspections. Their only goal is to resolve any outstanding issues with The Blues Can.
“Police attend with AHS EPH during evening inspections, whether at this location or any other,” said Woods.
“This is for the safety of the AHS evening inspection team.”
Driven by public influence
During a meeting with Smith, Wilson, an AHS public health inspector and his supervisor, they asked why they were receiving regular inspections, while neighbouring establishments had received few, if any.
Smith was told that their inspections are exclusively complaint based.
“She just kept repeating that they only inspect establishments that receive complaints, suggesting our patrons are calling them in,” he said.
“Our customers have been coming here for years. If they had issues with us, they’d either tell us directly, or they’d just stop coming.”
Smith and Wilson believe there may be a competitive aspect to the repeat AHS visits.
“They know how the system works, and frankly, it’s pretty outrageous that AHS is basing their efforts exclusively on random phone calls from the public,” said Smith.
“If it were up to me, certain individuals would lose their jobs today.”
Asking the public for help
Smith is asking for the public’s help in proving to AHS that he and his staff are complying with COVID 19 safety protocol – in some cases, better than other operations.
Smith released a Facebook post on Thursday asking patrons to take anonymous photos of other establishments, in hopes to highlight his efforts compared to others.
“We do not care about the names of the establishments or the addresses, as we are not trying to rat anyone out here. Just show AHS that we are one of the good ones, to try and get them to leave us alone,” said Smith.
“Sixteen weeks, and over 200 shows since we returned from lockdown, with not a single infection coming from The Blues Can… We must be doing something right, no?
Prior to the lockdown being lifted, Smith said they’d never had any issues dealing with public health inspectors, and even received the “Best Bar None” award from the AGLC for 2018-2019 and 2019-2020.
“At first, we were their greatest ally – they used us as an example for other bars,” Smith said.
“Now instead of using us as an example, they’ve decided to make an example of us.”
After the most recent inspection, which took place on Oct. 17, Smith said he’s no longer interested in trying to work with AHS.
“At this point, either fine me, or shut me down. Otherwise, leave us the hell alone.”
Anyone interested in submitting photos of businesses not adhering to COVID 19 safety protocols can do so on their Facebook page:
Photos must remain as anonymous as possible. Please do not include business names or signage, or identifiable faces in any photos submitted.
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