Municipality warns defiant businesses they could be fined for breaking law

'Sorry, we're closed' sign. June 2020. (Photo by Alan Levine from Pxhere)

The Municipality of Chatham-Kent is reminding the public that local bylaw enforcement officers and police will continue enforcing provincial COVID-19 regulations despite a plan by some businesses to defy the law.

In early April, the province issued an Ontario-wide stay-at-home order and shutdown to keep people safe because COVID-19 cases were rising and started filling up hospital Intensive Care Units. Under the orders in-person shopping is not allowed at non-essential retail stores (curbside pickup only) and indoor dining is not permitted at restaurants (only take out and delivery). However, some businesses in Chatham-Kent are planning to disregard the provincial orders and open on April 30, 2021.

Municipal officials said they understand some businesses are going through a tough time but ignoring the law is not the way to go, adding municipalities are required to enforce the provincial orders.

“The municipality is aware of a planned event encouraging local businesses to open their doors in defiance of these Provincial Orders. The Chatham-Kent Police Service, Public Health Unit and By-Law Enforcement are actively monitoring this event as it unfolds and will conduct inspections of the businesses associated with the event and charges will be laid, if warranted,” read a statement from the municipality.

The statement also noted that a patron could be fined a minimum of $880 and businesses could be fined up to $100,000 if they break the law. Business owners could also face up to a year in jail if they remain open. Corporations face a maximum fine of $10 million.

The municipality added bylaw and police officers have done random audits since the orders came down and continue to keep a close eye on the community. According to the municipality, one fine has been issued for a gathering during the current lockdown, 35 business inspections have been done, and seven educational warnings have been relayed regarding the current shutdown changes.

Chatham-Kent residents who have concerns about non-essential businesses or social gatherings can continue to report their concerns anytime by calling 519-360-1998 or by emailing Covid19enforcement@chatham-kent.ca.

The municipality is hopeful restrictions will be eased soon and businesses can begin to reopen as more people get vaccinated.

On Friday, Chatham-Kent Public Health reported a new workplace outbreak to bring the total number of outbreaks to four — two in workplaces and two in schools that were declared last week.

According to the health unit, there are seven new cases and three resolved cases for a new total of 41 active cases. The number of residents with a variant or related mutation is also up to 105. There are zero residents in the COVID-19 unit at the Chatham hospital. Hospital President and CEO Lori Marshall said occupancy in the medical, surgical, and critical care units is at 81 per cent and overall occupancy is at 60 per cent. Marshall added four of the 10 ICU beds were occupied as of Thursday and one of the patients was on a ventilator.

Walpole Island First Nation has six active cases.