Vancouver suspends licences of 2 restaurants that defied B.C.'s public health orders

Two Vancouver restaurants that defied B.C.'s public health order barring indoor dining have had their business licences suspended.

The city announced Monday that Gusto and Corduroy Lounge must remain closed until April 20. The suspension of their business licences came after Vancouver Coastal Health issued closure orders for both restaurants.

A video posted to Facebook on Saturday evening shows Corduroy, on Cornwall Avenue in the city's Kitsilano neighbourhood, packed with customers as maskless servers make the rounds as if there were no pandemic at all.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry ordered restaurants to stop indoor service on March 31 as positive cases of COVID-19 continue on an alarming upward trend.

In the social media video, a pair of Vancouver Coastal Health inspectors can be seen speaking with Corduroy owner Rebecca Matthews, who tells them she does not recognize their authority and accuses them of trespassing.

“Get out! Get out!” the crowd in the dining room chants as the health inspectors make their way out the door.

Vancouver police confirm officers attended the restaurant, along with a liquor inspector, on Saturday evening but no enforcement action was taken.

“As for the next steps — provincial health authorities will see further action as they see fit,” Const. Tania Visintin wrote in a statement. “We will continue to assist under their direction and are just awaiting further direction.”

Matthews declined a CTV News interview request but on social media has vowed to open the restaurant at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

Those intentions were posted before the city took action.

“Any alleged violations of closure orders are taken very seriously and are thoroughly investigated,” Vancouver Coastal Health said in an emailed response to CTV News questions about what will happen if the restaurant opens Tuesday.

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth expressed disgust at Saturday’s incident.

“There most certainly will be consequences for those openly ignoring and defying orders that are intended to keep British Columbians safe,” he said in a statement without elaborating on what the consequences might be.

It is the City of Vancouver that has taken the most severe actions so far.

If either restaurant opens prior to April 20, the city could permanently revoke their business licences and bar the owners from applying for new ones for a period of five years.

“The harassment and bullying public health officials experienced during the execution of their duties is completely unacceptable,” Mayor Kennedy Stewart said in a statement. “The City of Vancouver has taken swift and strong measures to close these restaurants and will pursue any future violations to the full extent of the law against these and any other non-compliant businesses.”

Gusto was the first rule-flouting restaurant to draw attention when owner Federico Fuoco spoke openly about his decision to continue serving customers on Thursday, telling CTV News he believes the service industry is being unfairly blamed for rising COVID-19 numbers.

"I feel that as a mature person, you can make your own decision," he said of his clientele. "They’re free to come and dine. If they feel safe to come at dine at my place, they can. If not, no one’s forcing them."

The business owner backpedaled over the weekend, announcing his restaurant would be complying with all COVID restrictions, but only after the local health authority ordered that Gusto be closed immediately.

B.C.'s rapid surge in coronavirus infections has seen daily case numbers break multiple records in recent days. Some 1,077 cases were identified from Friday to Saturday, setting a new single-day record for the province.

There has also been a concerning increase in hospitalizations involving younger people, as evidence grows that some variants of concern may cause more severe illness in all age groups.

Under the latest restrictions, restaurants, coffee shops and breweries are still allowed to serve patrons on patios and sell takeout, but indoor dining is suspended until April 19. Many in the industry have been supportive of the measures, despite the expected financial toll.

Over the weekend, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said he's "frustrated" by the behaviour of others trying to defy orders designed to protect the health and safety of residents.

"There's no illusion. No one misunderstands the rules. Indoor dining is not allowed right now in British Columbia," Dix said.

B.C. also brought back its prohibition on in-person religious services, suspended all group fitness activities, and ordered the temporary closure of the popular Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort.