Winnipeg tattoo shop owner fined for opening despite public health order

A Winnipeg tattoo shop owner was fined by COVID-19 enforcement officials after he defiantly opened his business Monday. He plans on opening again tomorrow too.

Phil McLellan, owner of the Parlor Tattoos on Main Street, opened his shop Monday morning — despite the level red pandemic restrictions — because he said keeping the shop closed is no longer an option for him as a business owner, and as a provider for his family of six.

Six officials — three public health officers and three law enforcement officers — visited McLellan’s home Monday afternoon to hand him a fine of $1,296 for disobeying the public health order. That is the fine amount given to individuals who do not adhere to public health rules; businesses are fined $5,000.

“I knew that there would be some repercussion to this. I wasn’t sure what the government’s response was going to be,” said McLellan, adding that he plans on opening his tattoo shop again Tuesday.

“Nothing has changed financially. They didn’t hand me a $1,296 cheque, so I still have to go to work, I still have to make money … I still have a house to support, I still have kids to feed. I can’t sit around and wait for either the bottom to fall out of my business and have nothing, or whatever happens.”

McLellan says it’s “truly unfortunate” that he’s in this position, but notes he is not the only small business facing this choice.

Originally, the code red restrictions were put in place on Nov. 12, 2020 to act as a circuit breaker against the high COVID-19 transmission levels that Manitoba was experiencing at the time. The restrictions were supposed to be in place for at least two weeks, but likely four weeks.

But the partial lockdown has gone on for over eight weeks and counting, after the Manitoba government again extended the restrictions until at least Jan. 22 last Friday.

Only one amendment was made to allow Winnipeg-based professional hockey teams to train, play and be exempted from self-isolating after travelling. Public health officials will be seeking feedback in the coming weeks to determine what, if any, restrictions can be lifted come the new expiration date.

While speaking on CBC Manitoba’s Information Radio Monday morning, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, said he understands public health orders have put business owners like McLellan in a difficult position.

But he says the rules were put in place to protect Manitobans, and any single individual’s decision to flout them foists risk on others as well.

“We just see what the alternative is. We saw that trajectory of the cases that we were on in early December. We saw that would overrun our health-care system if we didn’t make this turn,” Roussin said.

WATCH | Owner fined for opening despite level red pandemic restrictions:

Enforcement officials issued Phil McLellan, owner of The Parlor Tattoos in Winnipeg, a fine of $1,296 Monday afternoon for disobeying public health orders. 2:16

Opposition calls for more business support

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said there’s an onus on all Manitobans to respect public health orders, but said government could help protect public health by giving more support to businesses.

“What you’re seeing in this case, I think, is some of the frustration that small businesses have as a result of the government not doing enough to support business owners,” Kinew said. “It doesn’t make it right.”

Given other businesses are also in McLellan’s position, he warns that if something isn’t done to further support small businesses, there may be little economy for the province to recover.

“It’s especially important that the government understands that there’s not going to be anything left,” McLellan said.

“They talk about economic recovery, half of nothing is nothing. If you wipe us all out, there’s going to be nothing to recover the economy to or from.”

Chuck Davidson, president and CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, also hears the plight of small business owners, but his organization doesn’t want them to disobey public health orders.

Chuck Davidson, president and CEO of Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, says he doesn’t want business owners breaking the law, but he understands why they would. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

“This is a long time for a lot of businesses to have to deal with, so I understand their frustrations,” Davidson said. “We’re going to continue to push that we need to get businesses reopened, but it does need to be done safely.

“From a business standpoint, we know that [many businesses] were taking all those necessary precautions and are still, unfortunately not open today.”

Over the past 10 months, the chamber has offered recommendations to the government and public health officials to allow businesses to open in certain manners, or allow businesses to operate more openly in regions where there is less COVID-19 present, Davidson said.

When code red came into effect, the chamber advocated for business supports, he said. “But unfortunately, a $5,000 bridge grant is not going to make up the difference for many businesses.”

Instead of encouraging business owners to break the rules, Davidson encourages Manitobans to follow the public health guidelines so businesses can open sooner. 

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