Everyone, please calm down about masks, pleads local grocer ‘stuck in the middle’ of policing new rule

Gordon Dean in December 2019. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News file

‘Our grocery store is not the right place for this debate’

CHESTERVILLE — Grocery store employees have been on the front line of the pandemic since COVID-19 began.

Now they find themselves on the front line of the region’s new mandatory mask rule — despite earlier assurances they wouldn’t be compelled to “police” the new indoor mandate imposed yesterday by four medical officers of health in the broader area.

In fact, the local Eastern Ontario Health Unit directive compels store staff to verbally remind those without masks to wear them — and to leave if they won’t. The rule applies to anyone over age two without underlying medical conditions that make wearing a mask impossible. No proof is necessary to claim a medical exemption.

“This is literally what our cashiers and clerks spent 25 percent of their day in Chesterville dealing with on a verbal basis yesterday,” says Mike Dean’s Super Food Stores President Gordon Dean, who wishes everyone would “please, just calm down” about the mask requirement.

“We can honestly say we twice had men almost engaging in a fist fight in our Chesterville store yesterday,” reports Dean. Those altercations resulted from one patron chastising another in both instances.

“This is getting silly,” he observes, also noting recent social media posts from individuals claiming to have accosted others for going unmasked — though with an exchange of words instead of blows.

Noting his family business has no option but to follow regulatory orders, Dean pleads for cooler heads in the community: “All I am asking for is our cashiers and clerks to not be screamed at over rules well out of our control.”  Customers need to direct their emotion and opinions to the Eastern Ontario Health Unit or their local MPP, he adds, “and not to us, the grocers.”

Dean’s plea echoes a recent tweet by Ottawa Public Health — whose medical officer of health is one of the four to have imposed the rule — urging shoppers to refrain from blaming or taking out their anger on cashiers for the mask requirement.

No stranger to regulations — saying he’s worked “non-stop” for 23 years with various agencies overseeing the family enterprise — Dean finds the “entire mask issue from the province and the health unit as the most cumbersome I have ever seen from the start with mixed messaging.”

He points out the EOHU order clearly states it’s the “duty” of every operator of an “enclosed public space” to “adopt a policy to ensure that no member of the public is permitted to enter or remain in the public areas” of such space “unless he or she is wearing a mask in a manner that covers their nose, mouth and chin.”

“This means the operator has a legal duty to follow; the wording is specific and the key legal word is duty,” he observes, contrasting it with another clause that then says the policy should be enacted in “good faith” and “primarily used as a means to educate people on mask use in public spaces.”

“These are contrasting and very wishy-washy to every operator because they contradict themselves within the same order,” he asserts, adding, “We as retailers and all businesses simply need clear guidance and messaging to the area from the EOHU.  And most importantly massive amounts of education directly to the general public of what the rules now are.

“We are very proud to be a 45-year business in Chesterville and our team working in our store are great local people; they are working their tails off serving our community during a time that is very challenging. Our grocery store is not the right place for this debate.”

NVN is seeking clarification from Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis on what’s expected of retailers with respect to the mask rule. The doctor was scheduled to address the media tomorrow, July 9, but that appearance has been postponed until 4:15 p.m. this Friday, July 10.

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