Five days after the Ontario government ordered a 28-day lockdown in Peel Region and Toronto, Derrick Noble opened up his toy store.
Nobletoyz, which Mr. Noble launched four years ago, is defying public-health orders and allowing visitors: no more than six at a time, and masks are mandatory. Soon after opening, he received a fine and a summons from the Ontario Provincial Police, but since then, he says, authorities have left him alone.
The Caledon OPP would only confirm that Mr. Noble was charged under the Reopening Ontario Act and issued a court summons.
“Caledon OPP is working closely with Peel Public Health and is prepared to assist Public Health in their investigation and enforcement,” said Iryna Nebogatova, an OPP spokesperson.
Caledon is one of three municipalities, along with Brampton and Mississauga, that make up Peel Region. It is the only small town subject to lockdown in Peel and Toronto.
Mr. Noble hopes other businesses in Bolton, Caledon’s most populous community, follow his lead, challenging what he sees as inequities in the rules that are dooming small operators.
“The small businesses in Bolton are dying … so I kind of wanted to lead the charge,” he said. “I want people in my community to open up, too.”
Some residents share Mr. Noble’s fear that the pandemic could decimate Bolton’s small businesses. There’s growing resentment in the community that big-box stores can remain open while local establishments suffer, and some feel that the lockdown orders are unwarranted because of Caledon’s low case counts. However, on a per capita basis, case numbers in Caledon rival the other municipalities in Peel.
In some small Ontario towns, there is bitterness directed toward large, urban centres, where case counts are much higher.
Shawn Legrow, owner of Sakred Skinz, a tattoo shop in Bolton, sees Brampton as the issue, a city with a high Black and South Asian population.
“I know what the problem is: Brampton, it is Brampton. I’m not being prejudiced or anything, but it is Brampton and their numbers are outrageous,” he said.
Bolton resident Giulia Lattavo has sympathy for the small businesses that are struggling in her community, but worries that too much blame is being placed on Brampton.
“I think the Brampton bashing is a little unwarranted,” she said.
Lawrence Loh, Peel Region’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, says Caledon’s COVID-19 situation is not all that different from that of its regional counterparts.
“Caledon’s cases per 100,000 is actually oftentimes neck and neck with Mississauga,” Dr. Loh said. “In absolute numbers their cases are lower. But on a per capita basis, they are essentially at the same risk of transmission as their southern neighbours.”
Dr. Loh says reducing transmission of the virus has to be the priority for all communities.
“I recognize that our businesses are suffering, but the reality is that there is a whole pandemic that’s happening here,” he said. “If we don’t get it under control, then we’ll see the picture that we’ve seen south of the border, where businesses end up closing anyway because things are out of control.”
Allan Thompson, the Mayor of Caledon, says he is “deeply concerned about small businesses” across town, but warns that “we are not out of the woods yet.”
Mr. Thompson says the town’s positivity rate is 7 per cent, and its case counts are “way higher” than they were in spring.
“I am personally committed to spending all of my Christmas dollars in small local shops in Caledon, whether by online ordering or curbside pickup,” he said.
Annette Groves, a regional councillor who has represented Bolton since 2000, says the community’s small businesses have been in decline for more than a decade.
“They’ve been struggling for a long time because we’ve had no population growth here for many, many years,” she said. “The fear that I have with locking them down and not allowing them to open is that some of these folks may not even survive this.”
Bruno Bertone, co-owner of Cheeks, a burger place in Bolton, says his loyal customer base is keeping the 32-year-old restaurant afloat, but worries that big-box stores have an unfair advantage over other small businesses in the area.
“Costco and all supermarkets are selling flowers, but the flower shop can’t, right? So I don’t know. Things aren’t fair.”
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