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The Monkey Tree Pub fined $5,175 for violating Covid restriction

The Monkey Tree Pub was handed the first Covid-19 related ticket for a food and beverage establishment in the NWT in December – in the amount of $5,175 – and it appears the case is headed to court in March.

The Monkey Tree Pub received a $5,175 Covid-related ticket for non-compliance with health and safety regulations from the chief public health officer.
Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

Mike Westwick, manager of communications for the Covid-19 secretariat, said the department is not going to comment on the incident due to possible legal implications.

"We won't be discussing the investigation in greater detail as it's likely to go before the courts," said Westwick. "Like a traffic ticket or a parking ticket, the individual or business can make their case and the charge will be evaluated by the courts."

Jennifer Vornbrock, co-owner of The Monkey Tree, confirmed that her Range Lake Road establishment received the ticket and that it was related to capacity. The company is aiming to fight the charge.  

"We were issued a ticket on the 15th of December for an incident that allegedly took place in November," Vornbrock explained.

She stated in a November liquor report that there were 132 people in the establishment - patrons and staff included. 

At close to midnight on Dec. 11, five inspectors - which included WSCC, health and liquor inspectors - came into the business. They requested paperwork and to discuss paperwork upgrades at the time and conduct inspections.

On the following Tuesday, the ticket was issued.

Last June, the pub was allowed to have 75 patrons indoors and 50 patrons on the patio.

When patio season closed after the summer, the department allowed for 125 patrons plus staff at the pub and 60 patrons plus staff for the Stake Restaurant on Oct. 8.

During regular, non-pandemic times, the fire marshal allows for a capacity of 205.

Vornbrock said she was frustrated with the outcome and will elaborate further on her position at a later date, but added that her opposition has to do with the inconsistency and lack of clarity on how Covid-19 rules are enforced.

"I could pay this ticket, but it means more to me than that," she said. "There are real issues that need to be addressed and (the GNWT) needs to take that part of it very seriously.

"Not everybody is playing by the same rules and there is no consistency within the departments. Not all are treated the same and a great example is senior officials getting to go outside the territory after being asked to stay home." 

She said the company has been around for three decades and has a strong familiarity with inspectors. As a result, the pub has a long record of showing it's committed to health and safety, including during the pandemic, she said.

"We do take everything very seriously and we have been in business for 31 years," she said. "We respect the fact that there needs to be inspectors – like liquor and health inspectors – for the safety of everyone. But, in this case, I think it is very clear given events since March, no tickets were ever issued. It seems a little strange that the Monkey Tree is the one being handed out the very first ticket."

She said she has been trying to rectify the situation with emails to the Department of Health and Social Services and her MLA, who happens to be Premier Caroline Cochrane.