Business leaders say they’re in the corner of the Monkey Tree Pub following the treatment the establishment received last month. 

The Chamber issued a strongly worded letter to Premier Caroline Cochrane stating that the organization is in support of the pub. 

The Jan. 27 letter co-signed by Chamber president Jenni Bruce and executive director Renee Comeau states that the business lobby organization supports the allegation that the pub – and the food and beverage sector, more broadly – is being unfairly treated by Covid Secretariat health inspectors. 

The Northwest Territories Chamber of Commerce recently sent a letter to the Premier Caroline Cochrane defending the Monkey Tree Pub, which received a Covid-related ticket recently. The private business has said that wants to ban a specific health inspector from entering the establishment due to allegedly harassing staff and treating management poorly. NNSL file photo

The Monkey Tree was issued a $5,175 Covid-19 public health order-related fine in January.

“From the feedback we have been receiving from our members, this is extremely troubling for the business community,” the letter states. “It is upsetting that both as premier, and minister of the Covid Secretariat, this behaviour by the individual health Inspector is being perceived by the business community as being ‘brushed off.'” 

Bruce and Comeau both supported co-owner Jen Vornbrock’s effort to ban the specific health inspector who issued the ticket from entering the premises. Vornbrock previously told Yellowknifer that the inspector has a history of harassing staff and contributing to an unsafe workplace. 

Treatment is unfair: Chamber

“It is also concerning that the GNWT does not see the issue of a male in an authority position being aggressive and unprofessional to a sector that is 85 per cent female,” Bruce and Comeau wrote. “This is being understood as “a she said/he said” situation, and until proven otherwise, we believe him and not her. Every individual has the right to a safe work environment free from harassment without the fear of retribution. This fundamental human right cannot be brushed aside.”

The Monkey Tree Pub is scheduled to appear in territorial court on March 2 at 9:30 a.m. in relation to the charge. 

Cochrane declined comment specifically to the pub case on Friday, noting that the issue is before the courts.

“It’s important we protect the fairness for all involved in judicial inquiries, so I won’t be commenting on details of the case,” Cochrane stated.

However the premier provided a defence of her government’s record working with businesses in limiting the spread of Covid-19. 

“The NWT business community has done an exemplary job at adapting to the pandemic,” Cochrane stated in an email last week. “Businesses have played an important role in protecting residents from Covid-19 while providing important goods and services that NWT residents rely on.

“It is important for all business to comply with existing orders to protect their staff, their customers and the broader community. Any business not complying jeopardizes the relative openness of our economy, as an outbreak could result in the need for stricter measures.”

Government has been successful: premier

Cochrane said the NWT’s success in not having high rates of transmission of Covid has been largely due to work between the government and the private sector. 

“Because we took strong, early action to protect public health against Covid-19, we are in a position today where nearly every business and organization can remain open even as the rest of the country moves into additional periods of lockdown,” she said. 

Although the Chamber’s letter states that restaurant operators have been afraid to speak out due to a fear of retaliation, Cochrane has said the Covid enforcement arm has been fair. 

 “Our public health officers use a progressive enforcement model emphasizing education ahead of punitive measures,” she said. “This means unless there was imminent danger or a blatant violation, they would provide information and guidance to help bring an individual or business into compliance.

“Except in extraordinary instances, we would not issue a charge to a business without first educating.”

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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