Given the confusion over how to enforce Manitoba’s household-only rule for indoor dining, it's time for the provincial government to provide clarity on how restaurants should verify residency.
Since Feb. 12, Manitobans have been allowed to eat in restaurants and lounges again, but only with members of their household. The reason is simple: there is a high risk of transmitting the virus that causes COVID-19 in any indoor place, where people are in close contact for prolonged periods without masks. Limiting indoor dining to members of the same household substantially reduces that risk, while providing restaurants and lounges with some ability to operate (at 25 per cent capacity). It strikes a reasonable balance.
Pandemic restaurant rules force mother, son to dine separatelyClick to Expand
Posted: 3:00 AM Feb. 24, 2021
A mother and her teenage son went to grab dinner at Fionn MacCool’s Monday night — but they didn’t end up eating together.
The reason? Because the address on her son’s identification matched his father’s — not his mother’s — even though he lives with her part time.
The challenge is how to enforce it. Requiring operators to verify addresses by requesting identification is problematic for many reasons. Some people don’t have ID with their current address, others have no ID at all. For that reason, restaurants aren’t legally obligated to ask for identification; it’s merely suggested in the public-health orders.
The only obligation operators have regarding the household-only rule is to take "reasonable measures" that all people sitting at the same table live together.
That leaves eateries in a tough spot. If they demand all customers produce ID, they will have to turn some people away and lose much-needed business. For operators already on the brink of bankruptcy, that's not a great option. Demanding ID from everyone is also unfair to people who can’t produce it.
If restaurants follow the health orders and take what they believe are reasonable measures (such as asking people if they’re from the same household and accepting their word), they run the risk of a hefty fine. That's not a great option, either.
When asked earlier this month how restaurants should define reasonable measures, Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, gave two examples. In doing so, he suggested — probably unwittingly — that restaurants should use stereotypes.
If restaurants follow the health orders and take what they believe are reasonable measures (such as asking people if they’re from the same household and accepting their word), they run the risk of a hefty fine.
"I would say that if we had four individuals roughly of the same age sitting at the same table and their IDs were not checked to see if they live at the same residence, I would say that wasn’t probably a reasonable attempt to ensure there’s the same household there," said Roussin.
In other words, four people of the same age don't "look like" a household (even though they could be), so the manager better ask them for ID. That would be a "reasonable measure," according to Roussin.
He offered a second scenario: "If we had a family of four and we just ensured that the two adults were within the same residence and for some reason it turned out that, one or (the) other of the youngsters were not in the same residence, I’d say that was still probably a reasonable attempt to ensure that (they were from the same household)."
Why? Because they happen to fit the stereotype of a family? According to whom?
Leaving it up to business owners to decide what a family or a household is supposed to look like in order to take “reasonable measures” is bad public policy.
Leaving it up to business owners to decide what a family or a household is supposed to look like in order to take "reasonable measures" is bad public policy. Business owners shouldn’t be put in that position and customers shouldn’t be subject to stereotypes.
The honour system seems to be working in most cases. Some restaurants are asking customers if they’re from the same household and they’re taking their word for it without requesting ID. They run the risk of being fined if they don’t get it right, but it’s a risk they’re willing to take. Others can’t afford to take that risk.
One solution might be to allow restaurants and lounges to satisfy the household requirement by asking customers to sign a waiver declaring that they live in the same household. That could be the "reasonable measure" the province is looking for. Restaurants must by law collect contact information from all customers (in case it’s needed for contact-tracing purposes). Getting them to sign a waiver could be done relatively quickly and easily.
Either way, the status quo is flawed and should be fixed.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.