Central Alberta restaurant owner defies health restrictions by serving diners

Whistle Stop Cafe owner says pandemic restrictions unfair to restaurants and small businesses

Whistle Stop Cafe owner Christopher Scott posted this photo of a notice AHS posted in his restaurant last Thursday, which closes the dining room. He is defying the order as a protest against health restrictions, which he says are unfair to restaurants and other small businesses.
Photo from Whistle Stop Cafe Facebook page

Whistle Stop Cafe owner Christopher Scott vowed on Monday to continue serving sit-down customers at his Mirror restaurant in defiance of Alberta Health Services regulations.

Scott is taking a stand because he feels restaurant owners like himself are being unfairly targeted by health restrictions that allow businesses such as grocery stores and other big chains such as Costco to welcome customers while owners of smaller businesses must turn away patrons who want to sit down for a meal.

The restaurant owner first planned to serve seated customers last Thursday as a one- or two-day protest. But he was motivated to take a bigger stand after hearing Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw talk last week about the decision to extend health restrictions past the Jan. 21 deadline.

“Everything changed when I heard Dr. Hinshaw say there was no foreseeable end to these restrictions,” said Scott, who has operated the café just east of Mirror on Highway 21 since 2019.

“To hear Dr. Hinshaw to say that and then to say we are all in this together, it made my blood boil.”

Scott decided then to keep his doors open as long as he can.

“We’re open because I just said ‘enough is enough and it’s time for a change,’” he said on Monday as a steady stream of customers came in to eat or pick up food.

Up until last Thursday he had been following the rules. But as weeks dragged on, he could see his bank account dwindling and wondered if he was going to be able to keep paying his only remaining staff member.

Scott is happy that grocery stores and others allowed to see customers are open and hundreds of people still have their jobs. But it is obvious to him that the risk of COVID being transmitted in that setting is much higher than in a restaurant or other small business.

“They’re open, I’m not. They’re thriving. And I’m at risk of losing my business. That’s not fair.”

Scott’s stance has struck a chord with many in the province.

“The support we’ve been getting since we started this has been overwhelming,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. Some of our posts have over 160,000 views.”

An update he put on Facebook had close to 900 engagements, as of Monday afternoon, almost all supportive.

“There is the odd angry face and the odd death threat mixed in there as well.”

Scott is not surprised by how people have reacted to his challenge.

“I knew we were going to have the support of small business and the majority of Albertans. Having this place I have the opportunity to talk to a lot of people and 99 per cent of the people who come through my door they are of the same mindset that the rules that AHS has imposed on restaurants and other small businesses similar to ours are unfair.”

While there are long-term health repercussions from COVID, lockdowns and other restrictions are also having a big impact on mental health. People have lost jobs, can’t support their families are being driven to suicide.

“I have a musician friend who has lost seven of his friends from the time (the pandemic) started until now through suicide.”

An AHS health inspector came by late last week and issued him a verbal warning and posted a notice of closure on his diner. AHS had not been back on Monday as of noon but he expects to hear from them again.

An RCMP officer stopped by in the morning but took no action, the business owner said.

If he continues he may have his health permit rescinded, which would mean his liquor licence is no longer valid. As well, he could face fines that could cost him thousands of dollars a day.

Despite those risks, he is not going to give up, he said.

Asked about Whistle Stop on Monday AHS said that “at this time restaurants are permitted to operate under the current public health restrictions but are limited to takeout, delivery or curbside pickup only.

“AHS continues to monitor the situation with RCMP.”

Corrina Fischer, a friend, volunteered to help Scott out at Whistle Stop.

Like him, she was dismayed that health authorities did not provide any reassurance that businesses would be able to reopen any time soon even though medical experts have said the chances are low of the virus being spread in restaurants and similar settings.

“We can stand for truth. It takes courage and it takes strength but we can do it.”

Fischer, too, has seen how the lockdowns and restrictions have had a severe impact on the mental health of so many, including seniors. She knows of five suicides, including a despondent father of three, who lost his job and took his own life last fall.

“We have to do something, and it starts here.”



pcowley@reddeeradvocate.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Whistle Stop Cafe east of Mirror is open for sit-down dining in defiance of health restrictions that owner Christopher Scott says are unfair to restaurants and other small businesses.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff

Just Posted

Supporters gather during a rally against measures taken by government and health authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19 at the Whistle Stop cafe in Mirror Alta, on Saturday May 8, 2021. The Whistle Stop was shut down by AHS for not complying with COVID-19 rules. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Police hand out tickets to dozens leaving anti-lockdown protest in Alberta

Hundreds gathered outside the Whistle Stop Café in the hamlet of Mirror, Alta.

Oval Race track at Central Alberta Raceway. (Photo Submitted)
Central Alberta Raceways in Rimbey delays opening after health restrictions expand

Central Alberta Raceways had originally planned to open for the season at the end of May

People line up outside an immunization clinic to get their Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. Alberta leads the Prairie provinces in being the first to take COVID-19 vaccine bookings for pre-teens. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta leads Prairie provinces in accepting COVID vaccine bookings for pre-teens

The province begins accepting appointments for kids as young as 12 starting today

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
File photo
Arrest made for armed robbery in Millet, Wetaskiwin RCMP continue to investigate

Wetaskiwin RCMP are investigating an armed robbery took place May 4, 2021 in Millet, Alta.

Dr. Karina Pillay, former mayor of Slave Lake, Alta., is shown at her medical clinic in Calgary on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
10 years later: Former Slave Lake mayor remembers wildfire that burned through town

Alberta announced in 2011 that an unknown arsonist had recklessly or deliberately ignited the forest fire

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman travelling from Alberta found dead in B.C. park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

A caribou grazes on Baffin Island in a 2008 file photo. A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada’s vanishing caribou herds is a step closer after a scientific review panel’s approval of a plan to permanently pen some animals and breed them to repopulate other herds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kike Calvo via AP Images
Parks Canada captive caribou breeding proposal gets OK from scientific review panel

Wolf density in Jasper is low enough that the animals would not be expected to be a major threat

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman’s restaurant is located in the tiny community of Field, which relies on tourism

Most Read