Restaurant’s liquor licence suspended after Hillier’s anti-mask event

The front door of the South Branch Bistro, in a public advertisement for its anti-masking event.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has temporarily suspended, and is moving towards permanently suspending, the liquor licence of a Kemptville restaurant after it held an anti-masking event organized by Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston MPP Randy Hillier.

“The AGCO has issued an Order of Interim Suspension of the liquor licence of The South Branch Bistro, located at 15 Clothier Street East in Kemptville, for reasons of public interest and safety,” said a statement from the regulator. “The interim suspension takes effect immediately. At the same time, the Registrar has also issued a Notice of Proposal to revoke the establishment’s liquor licence for infractions of the Liquor Licence Act, including the requirement that the licence holder act and carry on business in accordance with the law and with honesty and integrity.”

The AGCO says that it learned that the licence holder was advertising and hosting a “No More Lockdown” protest rally on its Facebook page on Apr. 7, 2021. “The event was open to the public and scheduled to take place on April 8, 2021, at the licensed premises, in contravention of the Province-Wide Shutdown Order made under the Emergency Management and Public Protection Act,” said the AGCO.

Officials from the AGCO, the Ontario Provincial Police as well as local public health and by-law enforcement officers attended to monitor the event. “People were observed consuming liquor inside the licensed premises, on the licensed patio, and in the surrounding parking lot. People were not socially distanced and most, including staff and children, were not wearing masks,” said the AGCO.

The OPP say they continue to investigate the incident, with further enforcement action possible for organizers and attendees. “During the evening of April 8, 2021, members from the Grenville County Detachment of the OPP attended a large gathering outside of a business on Clothier Street East, in the Municipality of North Grenville,” said OPP in a statement. Officers remained on scene for several hours to monitor the event.

According to OPP, they had received numerous requests to attend the area, and OPP believe that approximately 200 people were in attendance at the event. “The OPP continues to support efforts to limit the transmission of COVID-19, including the government-mandated shutdown and the Stay-At-Home Order,” said OPP. “Actions are based on public health advice from the Government’s health table as well as the Chief Medical Officer of Health. The OPP will continue to support the efforts of our by-law officers and local public health units.”

The AGCO said it returned to the restaurant on April 9, 2021, where inspectors again observed liquor being served to patrons on the licensed patio despite the Province-Wide Shutdown Order in effect. Staff were again not wearing masks.

“Those who hold a licence to sell alcohol are responsible for meeting their obligations under the LLA, and to act with honesty and integrity. The AGCO regularly conducts compliance activities at liquor licensed establishments across the province and commends the vast majority of licensees for operating responsibly,” said the AGCO. “There are consequences for licence holders who do not meet these requirements, including the possibility of an Order of Monetary Penalty, a temporary suspension of the licence, or in the most serious cases a revocation of the licence.”

In a letter to residents, North Grenville Mayor Nancy Peckford explained why the event was not immediately disbanded as it happened. “Given the size of the gathering, and the intention of the organizers to sensationalize the event, as well as to create more publicity, Municipal Bylaw officers, Public Health representatives and the OPP were present to fully document what transpired, and to keep the peace,” said Peckford. “They did just that. It is my full expectation that more will come on this matter.”

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