Toronto restaurant says it won't accept medical exemptions

A midtown Toronto restaurant worries its staff won't be able to tell the difference between real vaccine passport exemptions and potential fakers when it opens to indoor diners in just over a week — so, it’s only going to let fully vaccinated people in.

“Just for now I’m not going to be accepting doctor's certificates as exemptions. I just want fully vaccinated people in here. For the past two years we’ve been incredibly safe, our staff are healthy, our customers are healthy, and I want to keep it that way,” Stern told CTV News.

Bistro on Avenue owner Cindy Stern said she’s still going to serve anyone who comes by through her take-out window, accommodating any medical issues that might come up. But for indoor dining, she said she’s worried about unvaccinated people trying to cheat, using notes from doctors that her staff won't know how to evaluate if they are real or not.

“It could be abused and we don’t have the time or resources to vet it,” she said.

Ontario residents must show proof of vaccination when going into non-essential venues and businesses. There are two legal exemptions: people who had an allergic reaction to a vaccine component, or someone who had myocarditis or pericarditis after a first dose.

A restaurant has an obligation to serve anyone with a disability under Ontario’s Human Rights Code, and it’s possible that someone who fits either of those categories is disabled. But those cases are very rare, said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti.

“The number of people who can get a true medical exemption is going to be very small,” he said.

That leaves people who may be trying to forge an exemption. A doctor in Richmond Hill has reportedly paused his practice after a crowd was photographed outside his clinic looking for all-purpose exemption letters.

In Florida, a doctor was fired last month after it was discovered he was offering patients mask exemption letters for $50.

David Lepofsky, a lawyer with the AODA Alliance, said the restaurant must make sure it’s accommodating any disabled customers.

He said the job of providing credible exemption documents should have fallen to the provincial government, and hoped that it would be included in the digital vaccine passport app expected next month.

“The government should have sorted this out while they were dragging their feet on a passport in the first place, rather than creating a barrier now,” he said.

The last time Stern went public on her pro-vaccination stance, she got threats.

“We don’t take them too seriously. A brick through a window. Fires. Hopefully we take it with a grain of salt,” she said.

But this time, she said the response to a tweet describing the restaurant's current situation was overwhelmingly positive.