Gusto restaurant owner Federico Fuoco says the restrictions banning indoor dining for three weeks are unfair and could lead to many small businesses having to close down.

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At least two Vancouver restaurants are defying a COVID-19 provincial public health order that bans indoor dining until April 19.

Under the government’s new restrictions announced earlier this week, restaurants can only serve patrons on patios or takeout. Both Gusto restaurant in Olympic Village and Corduroy in Kitsilano have indicated that they will remain open to serve customers.

Gusto restaurant owner Federico Fuoco, who already had to close one of his restaurants because of the pandemic, says these restrictions will be the “final nail in the coffin” for small business owners.

He says it’s unfair that people are still allowed to cram into malls, eat on ferries, or shop at busy mega stores like Costco and Walmart. He also questioned why the government is allowing indoor wine tasting to continue.

“Why just our industry? If it was a blanket policy at least that would be fair. If there are outbreaks, like at the poultry factories, then you isolate that one. But to punish one industry to me it is discriminatory,” said Fuoco.

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Two Vancouver restaurants have defied provincial health restrictions on restaurant openings as a result in the spike of COVID-19 cases. One is Corduroy which has signs claiming sovereign citizen rights posted in its doorway, although the restaurant was closed Saturday afternoon. The second is Gusto restaurant (pictured) in the Olympic Village.
Two Vancouver restaurants have defied provincial health restrictions on restaurant openings as a result in the spike of COVID-19 cases. One is Corduroy which has signs claiming sovereign citizen rights posted in its doorway, although the restaurant was closed Saturday afternoon. The second is Gusto restaurant (pictured) in the Olympic Village. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

On Friday, Fuoco said he would continue to serve people indoors in defiance of the order to take a stand against the “unfair” measures hurting small restaurants. Later, Vancouver Coastal Health posted a notice on the door ordering the restaurant to close.

Fuoco said Saturday morning that he is trying to get Vancouver Coastal Health to lift the order but he will abide by it for now.

“This order should be lifted immediately. If you are restricting us you should restrict everybody.”

Fuoco, who is also a Non-Partisan Association board member, said he installed Plexiglas dividers and hand sanitizing stations and insists he has been following all social distancing rules. He said the expense has become too costly for restaurants and he fears many will go under.

“Restaurants struggle in the best of times when there isn’t a pandemic. Plexiglas is at a premium. It’s like buying gold right now,” he said.

Fuoco added that on a day when it’s raining there are no customers who want to sit outside.

“Restaurants are worried that come April 19 the order will be extended and if that’s the case wait and see how many restaurants will close. They will not be able to weather this. What are people supposed to do if they don’t have a patio? They can’t survive on takeout alone.”

Meantime, in a video posted to Instagram Friday, Rebecca Matthews, owner of Corduroy, tells a crowd of anti-maskers that their restaurant is “officially open.”

In her speech, Matthews rallies against the government for closing the indoor seating, says she distrusts the media, and questions whether the data on the COVID numbers is accurate.

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“The cure cannot be worse than the cause and it’s time to open up our doors,” she said.

At Corduroy Saturday, a sign was posted on the front door claiming sovereign citizen rights. So-called sovereign citizens believe they are exempt from government rules and only follow their particular interpretations of the common law. Some don’t pay their taxes. However, they are not exempt from the law and can face criminal charges and even prison.

Four years ago, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Murray Blok said these arguments have never been successful in any court and called them “sheer and utter nonsense.”

Two Vancouver restaurants have defied provincial health restrictions on restaurant openings as a result in the spike of COVID-19 cases. One is Corduroy (pictured) which has signs claiming sovereign citizen rights posted in its doorway, although the restaurant was closed Saturday afternoon. The second is Gusto restaurant in the Olympic Village.
Two Vancouver restaurants have defied provincial health restrictions on restaurant openings as a result in the spike of COVID-19 cases. One is Corduroy (pictured) which has signs claiming sovereign citizen rights posted in its doorway, although the restaurant was closed Saturday afternoon. The second is Gusto restaurant in the Olympic Village. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

The restaurants have left many people on social media angry and confused at the defiance. In response to the crowd of anti-maskers and Corduroy restaurant, one person wrote:

“Thank you so much for doing your part to contribute to the high number of COVID cases in B.C.! Congratulations on extending closure orders due to your selfish and misguided actions of hosting a large gathering and packing your restaurant full of people.”

Vancouver Coastal Health did not confirm that it had ordered Gusto to close, and has not answered questions about whether it is investigating Corduroy for serving people indoors.

Instead, a media spokesperson provided a brief statement saying that it works with businesses to ensure they can operate safely and comply with COVID-19 guidelines, as set out by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

If WorkSafeBC/environmental health officers identify that improvements to COVID-19 safety plans are needed, they will work with businesses to ensure that the necessary protocols are in place, VCH said.

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“Establishments that are non-compliant with plan requirements may face orders and fines, and possible referral to VCH public health which may result in a closure order,” the statement said.

Details on enforcement of the orders can be found on the B.C. government website.

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-with a file from Ian Mulgrew

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