A Quebec waiter who served salmon tartare to a customer with a severe food allergy won't be prosecuted for his mistake, ending a criminal case that stirred debate on restaurants' duty to protect their patrons in an age of growing food reactions.
The province's Crown prosecutors' office says it will not pursue criminal negligence charges against the waiter, whose arrest drew world attention last month.
"There was no criminal offence in what the young man did," René Verret, a spokesman for the prosecutors' office, said Tuesday.
Police had recommended charges against the 22-year-old waiter at Le Tapageur, a tapas bar in Sherbrooke, Que., after customer Simon-Pierre Canuel says he ordered beef tartare but was served salmon instead. Mr. Canuel says he went into anaphylactic shock, fell into coma and spent five days in hospital.
Tuesday's announcement may still not end legal wrangling over the case, which was believed to have been a Canadian first.
François Daigle, a lawyer for Mr. Canuel, has sent a lawyer's letter to the restaurant and says his client still plans to sue for damages. According to police, the waiter was warned about Mr. Canuel's food allergy but didn't write down the order or alert the kitchen. Mr. Canuel said he suffered anxiety months after the May meal.
"What he lived through wasn't banal," Mr. Daigle said on Tuesday. "Mr. Canuel suffered damages after the waiter's error. Obviously, there is legal responsibility by his employer."
Meanwhile, a prominent Quebec criminal lawyer says he believes Sherbrooke police acted overzealously in arresting the waiter, who may have grounds to take legal action against the force.
Jean-Claude Hébert says police should have pursued their investigation further before placing the waiter under arrest, in what he characterized as an abuse of power.
Mr. Hébert also said the waiter's actions did not meet the legal requirement for criminal negligence.
"You have to demonstrate recklessness, gross negligence," he said. "It isn't just an ordinary mistake that you make in good faith."
Mr. Canuel later told interviewers that he had had previous severe reactions to food allergies. However, during the incident at Le Tapageur, he had left his EpiPen in his car.
Beatrice Povolo, a spokeswoman for Food Allergy Canada, said the case helped highlight the challenges facing the 2.5 million Canadians with food allergies. Both customers and food service staff have to take responsibility for keeping people safe, she said.
"It raises the issue of the seriousness of food allergies and the fact they must be taken seriously, and they can be life-threatening," Ms. Povolo said, adding that she would like to see a protocol in the food service industry to handle allergy issues, as well as better training and education.
A waitress who answered the phone at Le Tapageur on Tuesday said the decision not to pursue criminal charges against the waiter lifted a weight off the staff's shoulders. Many were under stress after the waiter's arrest. "We're like family here. It affected us all."