I have several times received questions from the public who wonder what the legal consequences are when a restaurant owner decides to defy the health rules. I am also asked if the restaurateurs who are forced to close would have recourse against the government in connection with the financial losses or the bankruptcies that this could cause.
Danielle, from Montreal, asks me this question: what are the legal consequences for this pastry chef from Jonquière who opened her dining room despite the health rules? What about the group of restaurateurs who want to open their dining room on January 30?
We can understand these restaurateurs to be there. It is very difficult for them. On the other hand, the Public Health Act is unequivocal and will allow the authorities to impose fines of $1,000 to $6,000 per day… And when there is a repeat offense following a first offence, the amounts double: “142. In the event of a repeat offence, the minimum and maximum fines provided for by this law are doubled.
So the minimum and maximum fine will double…and this can lead to very large amounts being imposed as fines. What discourage many if the government applies the law.
If the restaurateur does not listen at all despite the imposition of tickets, the authorities could even go so far as to obtain an order from a judge, forcing the restaurateur to completely close his restaurant for the protection of public health: “ 106. When a public health director is of the opinion, during the course of an investigation, that there is indeed a real threat to the health of the population, he may: 1°, order the closure of a place or no allow access only to certain persons or under certain conditions and post a notice to that effect.”
A seal could be put on the door and the restaurateur would no longer have access to his establishment.
HUMAN DRAMAS THAT ARE PLAYED OUT IN SILENCE
I will tell you that, despite the law, the fact remains that it is a very controversial subject at the moment. There is a desire to defeat the virus and prevent our health system from cracking, bringing all the consequences we know. We talk a lot about common interest during the pandemic. However, we forget that while we are waging war on the virus, there is significant collateral damage. There are human dramas that unfold in silence. It’s not a health issue, but it can be just as devastating…
We ask a lot of entrepreneurs, we ask them to sacrifice themselves for the group. Not an easy position. Which explains very well why there is a desire on the part of several restaurateurs to follow in the footsteps of the pastry chef from Jonquière and defy the health rules on January 30 for their own survival… We may have a lot of empathy for the situation, but who wants their life to be sacrificed for the group?
Indeed, an entrepreneur, more specifically a restaurateur in this case, will invest everything in his business. His money, his time, sometimes his health, he will often even involve his family and ask them to make sacrifices. When it goes off the rails, he can lose everything; it’s human dramas that are unfolding at the moment, such as the loss of psychological health, a divorce, etc. That’s a lot to ask of them right now. Especially since they have contributed and they see that in several places in the world, we do not close restaurants despite the fight against the pandemic, and we allow them to open for a question of survival and in order to avoid significant collateral damage.
It’s not legal, what they intend to do… However, when looking for solutions in the legal field, you have to respect the law, of course, but you always have to look for the logic behind the rules. Communication is always the solution and it is time for the Legault Government to stop turning a deaf ear and work with restaurants for a predictable and safe reopening. If this is not possible, they compensate them adequately as soon as possible! No history of administrative paperwork that takes forever and makes help inaccessible.
Alain, from Quebec, asked me another question related to this subject: given the government-forced restaurant closures, could restaurant owners have recourse against the government for losses suffered or bankruptcies?
The answer is no. The Public Health Act provides immunity from prosecution in connection with actions taken in good faith by the government to protect the public during a state of health emergency: “The government, the minister or any other person cannot be prosecuted for an act done in good faith in the exercise or execution of these powers.”