Winnipeg bar owners say new pandemic restrictions keeping them closed were unfairly applied

Although Manitoba reversed a decision to close Winnipeg-area beverage rooms for two weeks as part of tougher new pandemic restrictions, several business owners say that due to their licensing, they’re being unfairly singled out.

Allen Morrison, the owner of the LGBT cabaret called Club 200 on Garry Street said his bar has been closed for the last few days, but just steps away, other bars are allowed to be open.

“It’s infuriating,” he said. “I’m not really sure how that is going to ensure public health and safety and reduce the spread when 99.3 per cent of the other bars are open.”

New public health orders that took effect on Monday evening no longer require beverage rooms in the Winnipeg metropolitan region to close for two weeks, as the chief provincial public officer said they would.

Beverage rooms, which are bars within licensed hotels, were to close for two weeks as part of a package of new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the Winnipeg area, but in the eleventh hour, those rules were changed.

This week, many business owners breathed a sigh of relief knowing their restaurants, lounges and taverns could stay open.

But because Club 200 operates under an entertainment facility license, it had to close.

Morrison is one of about a dozen businesses who are affected by new restrictions, including Pyramid Cabaret, Fame, La Roca, The King’s Head, The Toad in the Hole and The Good Will Social Club.

Club 200 is an LGBT cabaret and lounge in the city. The owner says they’ve gone above and beyond with public health measures, and feel the choice to close it down wasn’t done fairly. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The business owners signed a letter to Premier Brian Pallister, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin and the board of the Manitoba Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba, calling on them to rethink the decision.

“Our establishments have operated as deep rooted local small businesses that have provided for our families, employees, patrons as well as supporting the local community,” the letter says.

“We are asking for a solution to this issue and are willing to sit down and discuss the differences between establishments operating under the same license.”

Wade Salchert owns La Roca on Smith Street, another bar that’s closed for the next week. He said he had to furlough 27 of his workers after his business was forced to close because of the new rules.

When that happened, Salchert said, he knew it was going to be tough, but he thought it was a good idea to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the city.

But when the province reversed course for beverage rooms, Salchert said the logic behind the new rules seemed less sound because many bars were now being allowed to stay open.

“Optically, I think that might have made an impact. Some people might have looked at that and thought, ‘Well, I’m glad they’re doing something,'” he said. “If they want to flatten the curve, that isn’t the right move.”

Now, business owners like Salchert and Morrison say they want a more sensible policy from the government.

“Yes, it’s only two weeks — I get that,” Morrison said. “But if it was being fairly applied, equally applied, to everybody [it] would be a little easier to swallow.”