June 13th, 2024

Montreal admits sudden patio closing during busy Grand Prix night was unacceptable

By Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press on June 10, 2024.

Montreal's administration is facing questions after fire prevention officers ordered a number of restaurants to shut down their packed outdoor seating areas during the busy Formula One weekend. People sit on a terrace in Old Montreal, Sunday, June 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL – The City of Montreal has launched an investigation and suspended an employee after fire prevention officers ordered a number of restaurants to shut their packed outdoor seating areas at dinner time during the busy Grand Prix weekend.

Luc Rabouin, president of the city’s executive committee, admitted it was “unacceptable” that uniformed personnel forced restaurant owners to order their clients off the patios on Peel Street at around 9 p.m. on Friday during one of the busiest nights of the year.

“We were all shocked about that and even our general direction, the highest level at the City of Montreal, decided to launch an inquiry because it’s not usual and it’s not normal that something like that happened here in Montreal,” he told reporters Monday outside Ferreira Café, one of the restaurants affected.

The city has been facing a barrage of criticism ever since Montrealer Sandra Ferreira posted a tearful video to social media on Friday describing how uniformed officers arrived at her family’s Ferreira Café and ordered her to clear the outdoor seating area because it did not conform to municipal bylaws.

In the video, Ferreira said there had been some back and forth with inspectors on the placement of patios and the tents covering them in the weeks preceding the Montreal Formula One race, but she was under the impression that her setup had been allowed.

“I find it cruel of them to have waited two, three weeks, and come shut it when the restaurant is full,” she said in the widely shared video.

Rabouin said Monday that the city had suspended an employee of the fire department pending the outcome of the internal investigation, but did not offer more details. He said the prevention officers found the tents above the patios had been placed too close to the buildings, but admitted the inspections should have come at a different time.

The backlash even forced the city’s firefighters’ association to issue a statement pointing out that the operation had been carried out by civilian prevention officers and not firefighters, who wear a similar uniform.

The four affected patios were allowed to reopen Saturday, without the tents that shielded customers from the rain.

City hall opposition Ensemble Montreal said the city administration should question fire officials in front of council so that the public can get answers on the “monumental fiasco” that tarnished the city’s reputation.

Julien Hénault-Ratelle, the party’s economic development critic, blamed the “shameful” incident on a lack of co-ordination and communication between the fire prevention team and the borough administration led by Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.

He said the closure, while it affected only a few restaurants, is only the latest challenge for struggling downtown businesses. “There are issues with cleanliness, the cohabitation with the homeless within downtown Montreal, and right here we have a work site right next to the street,” he told reporters. “All of those issues are very hard for all of the business owners.”

Alain Creton, the owner of Chez Alexandre et fils restaurant, said he and another affected restauranteur are still too upset to know exactly what action they want the city to take.

“We’re too emotional, we’re tired, so we don’t know what to do and what we want,” he said. He indicated, however, that he didn’t intend to take legal action.

“I don’t want to fight nobody, I just want that not to happen again, not only for me but for everyone in Montreal.”

Rabouin said the city would take 24 hours to come up with proposals to allow the restaurant owners to safely operate their covered patios, but Creton said he’s still not sure he wants to put a tent back up.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2024.

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