‘Please be clear, please be fair’: Chorus of confusion over in-person music lessons

WINNIPEG — A Winnipeg music teacher is voicing his anger, after he said he was threatened with a public health fine over the weekend for holding one-on-one private lessons.

Robert Burton has been a music teacher for 40 years and owns the River Heights Music School. 

He recently started holding one-on-one lessons again, which he said he believed were allowed under the current restrictions.

The latest round of public health orders say businesses can “provide tutoring or other individualized educational instruction.”

“It doesn’t say ‘institution,’ it doesn’t say, ‘public or private schools,’ it says ‘business.’ We’re a business and we provide education,” Burton told CTV News Monday.

Burton said two enforcement officers came to his door Saturday, saying in person lessons are off limits for music schools and warned he could face a $5,000 fine.

CTV News spoke to several music schools in the city. Some are offering in-person music classes, while others are sticking to virtual lessons until they get clarification. 

“They came up here to enforce a bylaw they weren’t sure of,” said Burton.

The music teacher said when he pointed out the section of the public health order he thought applied to his businesses, the enforcement officers left to phone a supervisor.

In the end, Burton said the pair left without fining him, but told him the onus was on him to get clarification. 

Since then, Burton said nobody from the province has been by to explain what he did wrong.

On Monday, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin was asked how the orders apply to music schools. 

Roussin said one-on-one in-person classes are allowed and businesses must operate at 25 per cent capacity.

He acknowledged the restrictions are not always easy to follow for business owners.

“It’s very difficult to write orders for every possible scenario,” said Roussin. 

It’s not the first time a music school and the Manitoba government haven’t been on the same page. 

In November, Spirited Music on St. Mary’s Road was fined twice for staying open.

The owner also said he thought he was following public health orders.

READ MORE: Winnipeg business owner to fight tickets for breaking health orders

Burton said if nail salons and tattoo artists can operate under the current restrictions, he should be able to provide one-on-one in-person lessons, particularly for his students with special needs.

He said safety protocols are in place, including physical distancing, masks and Plexiglas barriers for singing lessons.

For now, he would like enforcement measures fine-tuned 

“Please don’t be ambiguous. Please be clear, please be fair,” said Burton.  

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