The Monkey Tree Pub, which recently received the first ticket in the NWT for non-compliance by the Covid-Secretariat, has told the GNWT that the health inspector who issued the charge is no longer allowed on site.
But the Premier says the establishment doesn’t have a choice.
On Dec. 15, the company was handed a $5,175 fine for being over capacity on Nov. 14. Based a liquor inspector report, the pub was three people over the limit.
The health inspector who issued the fine was not present on Nov. 14.
Jennifer Vornbrock, co-owner of the pub, sent the first of two letters to Premier Caroline Cochrane on Dec. 30 stating that the health inspector in question “is no longer permitted on the premises of Stake Restaurant or The Monkey Tree Pub, located at 483 Range Lake Road, effective immediately.”
The letter alleges that the inspector, who NNSL Media is not naming, “has on many occasions behaved aggressively and inappropriately towards both the owners and the staff of The Monkey Tree and Stake.”
Vornbrock also alleges that the inspector in question is “targeting” her establishment and that the pub and restaurant can no longer accommodate his presence due to safety concerns.
“As a woman in business, I have a right to work in a safe space,” she stated. “Further, I work extremely hard, in line with the GNWT policy on workplace harassment, to create and maintain a safe work environment for my staff, free of harassment and intimidation. I no longer feel that such a space is possible in the presence of (the inspector).”
Mike Westwick, spokesperson for the Covid Secretariat said in a statement that the department stands by their inspector.
“We stand by the conduct of our officers and have no reason to believe they have been anything but professional in discharging their duties,” he stated.
“GNWT employees will continue to discharge their duties to support the implementation of the Public Health Orders of the Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO), which have been issued for the purpose of protecting NWT residents in response to the COVID-19 pandemic threat.”
Both Westwick and Cochrane say that Vornbrock can’t legally restrict health inspectors that the GNWT sends.
The Premier stated in a Jan. 9 letter to Vornbrock that private businesses don’t have the ability to deny health inspectors for any reason.
“While we do not comment on the specifics related to matters before the courts, it is important for you to be aware that any public health officer validly appointed under the Public Health Act and with specific authorization provided by the chief public health officer to conduct compliance inspections, are entitled pursuant to (section) 8(1)(b) of the act, to enter any premises at any reasonable time and without prior notification, to conduct an inspection,” she stated. “Pursuant to (section) 10 of the act, it is an offence for any person to obstruct a public health officer who is attempting to enter an establishment in order to conduct an inspection.”
Question of safety
Vornbrock sent a second letter on Jan. 11 reiterating her safety concerns and added that Cochrane’s response “means that my staff, my husband and I will have to choose between being safe or going to work.”
Vornbrock has maintained in interviews and letters to the GNWT that she is committed to working with officials to ensure that safety is maintained in the workplace. In the Jan. 11 letter, she added that this includes health and safety inspectors, except in this particular case.
“We understand the important role GNWT officials play in protecting public health, but those officials must be held accountable and conduct themselves in a professional, courteous manner and refrain from harassment and intimidation,” she stated. “We did not say that public health officials in general are banned from our establishment. In fact, we look forward to working with all of them, and to continuing our professional relationship moving forward.”
NNSL Media requested further comment from Cochrane on Monday afternoon.
Vornbrock has said that the pub will be fighting the charge. The matter is set to arise in territorial court on March 2 at 9:30 a.m.