Quebec bar owner groups demand immediate reopening

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“Bar owners are, again and again, victims of illegitimate discrimination.”

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Two groups of bar owners are demanding that Quebec immediately reopen drinking establishments because of “flagrant inconsistencies” between the government’s public statements and the application of its latest decree.

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The president of the Union of Bar Tenanciers of Quebec, Peter Sergakis, and his counterpart of the Corporation of Bar, Brewery and Tavern Owners of Quebec, Renaud Poulin, wrote to Premier François Legault and the Minister of Health on Monday. Christian Dubé to plead for a rapid reopening. A copy of the letter has been posted on the UTBQ website.

Restaurant dining rooms in Quebec have been half-open since January 31 – with a long list of restrictions. Restaurants must stop selling alcohol at 11 p.m. and close at midnight.

Bars, brasseries, taverns and casinos remain closed until further notice. Legault ordered them closed Dec. 20 as the fifth wave of COVID-19 hit the province.

While the government decree that allows restaurants to reopen specifically prohibits the sale of alcohol to customers without food, Sergakis and Poulin say the opposite is happening. Police and the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux, Quebec’s liquor board, are allowing restaurants to sell alcohol without meals, the bar owners said in their letter.

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“How can you encourage such practices when your government claims to advocate the diversity of the Quebec people and the equality of all? Sergakis and Poulin wrote. “There is only one conclusion: bar owners are, again and again, victims of illegitimate discrimination.”

Joyce Tremblay, spokesperson for the liquor board, disputed the version of the groups of bar owners.

“Our website clearly shows that restaurants are prohibited from selling only alcohol during the pandemic,” Tremblay said in an interview Monday evening. “Any alcohol sold must be accompanied by food prepared by the restaurateur.”

Reopening restaurants in the coming days would also prevent organized crime from “taking over” the provincial gambling scene, Sergakis and Poulin said in their letter. Many Quebecers have started using online gambling platforms, many of which are hosted outside the province, depriving Loto-Québec of “thousands of dollars” in potential revenue, Sergakis and Poulin said.

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Quebec government officials were scheduled to meet with public health experts on Monday evening to discuss possible changes to current restrictions. Any updates will be provided “in the coming days,” said Ewan Sauves, a spokesperson for Legault, via text message. He declined to elaborate.

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