Anti-maskers are causing a headache for local restaurants that are facing online harassment and in-person aggression for upholding COVID-19 safety measures.
Stephen Deere, owner of Modern Steak in downtown Calgary, said comments on their social media pages have spiralled in recent days with some calling for the boycott of the fine dining restaurant.
“Over the last 24 to 48 hours, it’s like there has been a full moon of some sort and people are just losing their minds now about having to wear a mask,” said Deere.
“Calgary has always been the hospitality of the west. Like, how we act at Stampede, how we treat visitors, how we help people when their cars break down — we’re known in Canada as such a friendly, helpful place. And now we’re doing this to our own people? I’m absolutely disgusted and upset about it.”
He said the threat of anti-maskers causing a stir at their restaurant is adding to the stress of his staff, who are already coping with existing anxiety of serving numerous guests in the midst of a pandemic. Deere said he’s coping but is afraid members of his team might quit if things get worse.
The restaurant is considering hiring security.
Other restaurants in Calgary are facing similar issues, some of which have turned violent. Deere said his friend Jason Shukuda, who manages KABUKU Downtown, had a group of men throw objects in the restaurant after being refused service without masks.
Shukuda did not respond to request for comment.
“This anger is so misdirected at hourly retail and hourly hospitality workers. We don’t make the rules,” said Deere. “I believe you can have your opinion about hating masks and all that but taking it out on the industry that are the ones following the rules is not the way to do it. Contact city council, contact your MLA, MPs and fight the ‘battle’ properly.”
Ernie Tsu, who owns Trolley 5 Brewery on 17th Avenue S.W. and is a board member with the Alberta Hospitality Association, said restaurants across the province are seeing these type of problems.
He believes the anti-mask movement is gaining momentum in part due to “contradicting” messages coming from Alberta’s top doctor and the provincial government but adds that the majority of interactions are positive.
In schools across Alberta, students are not mandated to wear masks while sitting at their desks and schools do not need to enforce physical distancing when students are sitting in classrooms.
Meanwhile, restauranteurs are following public health guidance in asking guests to mask up unless they are seating at their table and eating.
“That’s where public distrust comes from,” said Tsu.
“But at the end of the day, the public needs to understand that restaurants and restaurant owners livelihoods depends the safety of the general public. So if you’re going to refuse to wear a mask, don’t go to a restaurant. It’s pretty simple.”
Hinshaw said previously masks can be a barrier to communication and learning, which is why there are different public mask requirements for retail stores, or restaurants, for example.
Tsu’s message to Albertans who are against wearing masks is simple: Stay home.
“If you want to have the luxury of still being able to go out and have some normalcy then understand this is coming from medical experts,” he said.
“Numbers never lie. There is no emotion in numbers. The amount of cases are going up right now and everybody has to do their part.”