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A rally was held in downtown Ottawa on Saturday by gym owners, restaurateurs, and other business owners, calling for a reasonable reopening of shuttered businesses.
The rally was organized by OpenSafe Ottawa, an organization calling for the safe reopening of businesses affected by Ontario’s Stage 2 lockdown. The group claims that many small businesses won't be able to survive if they aren’t able to reopen “responsibly.”
The Ottawa Citizen was present at the rally, and spoke with OpenSafe Ottawa organizer Scott Ruffo, who is the owner of a live music venue and billiard hall. He said that he hopes all three levels of government will hear the concerns of affected business owners.
Ruffo had about a dozen employees before the lockdown order from the Ford government. He added: “we want to work safely, we want to encourage mask use and safe social distancing, but we also need to survive as businesses. It’s not that we don’t have an understanding or want to be defiant.
“If this pandemic goes on three months, six months, another year, two years, there has to be a common ground where businesses can work together with public health and the province and the city and the federal government to be able to do that.”
The OpenSafe Ottawa protest differs from other COVID-19 related protests across the country, as it does not call for the end of all restrictions nor is it an anti-mask. OpenSafe’s website states: “our message is clear. We are not anti-maskers or those looking to counter public health measures, but the contrary.”
The group believes that measures such as mandatory masks and proper health precautions can minimize the spread of COVID-19 in businesses.
“This is our livelihood. I’ve been 28 years in the business and I don’t plan on going anywhere, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure people are safe, both our guests and our staff,” told Domenic Santaguida, owner of the popular Italian restaurant Vittoria Trattoria, to the Citizen.
Santaguida added that he thinks that some industries, including the restaurant industry, are being unfairly targeted by the Ontario government, who has not provided any evidence showing that there has been transmission in Ottawa restaurants.
Another industry that feels unfairly targeted is the fitness industry. Two weeks ago, The Post Millennial spoke with Anytime Fitness franchise owner Jeffery Christison, who started a petition which now has over 17,000 signatures reopen gyms COVID “hot zones”
However, Christison’s motives were not related to finances, but rather due to the mental health crisis that COVID lockdowns have created. “Suicide, drug over dose, alcoholism, domestic violence, are some devastating things we lost members to. These were all people who were actively using regular exercise as a tool and lifeline in their day to day struggle.”
Christison’s partner Jesse James Davidson was present at Saturday’s rally, and reiterated concerns about mental health. He told The Ottawa Citizen that while they have not lost any of his 20,000 members to COVID-19, he has lost several members to suicide, overdose and domestic violence.
PC MPP Lisa MacLoed said that while she feels “completely sympathetic” but reiterated that the lockdown was not going to be reversed.
However, others in the PC caucus are starting to push back against the premier’s new lockdowns, which were strongly recommended by Ontario’s unelected Chief Medical officer of Health, Dr. David Williams. Halton PC MPPs Parm Gill and Jane McKenna signed a letter along with other Halton officials asking the Premier Ford not to impose a Stage 2 lockdown on that region.
One of the premier’s daughters has also spoken out about the closure of gyms on Instagram, sharing Christison’s petition. The fitness industry is hopeful that they can follow the dance studio industry in convincing the government to let them reopen safely.
While other Canadian anti-lockdown rallies are seeing record turnout in the thousands, Saturday’s OpenSafe Ottawa rally had a turnout of about 50 people. However, this was because the organizers had asked for a small turnout, pleading to business to only have “1-5 representatives attend in-person.”
The organizers also had an online space for people to attend the protest virtually.