Brunch spot owners question enforcement priorities after deleted Instagram post prompts immediate inspection

The owners of a downtown Winnipeg restaurant are questioning Manitoba’s pandemic enforcement priorities after they received a visit from a liquor inspector over an Instagram post that was up for 20 minutes and didn’t lead to any alcohol sales.

On Wednesday, Exchange District brunch spot Clementine posted on Instagram about the availability of pre-mixed cocktails comprised of house-made syrups, juice and hard liquor.

“We thought it’d be a fun idea to bottle up some of our cocktails,” said Clementine co-owner Chris Gama, adding alcohol is not a major component of his sales.

The Princess Street restaurant is only open only for takeout and delivery service due to pandemic restrictions imposed on the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region.

While restaurants are allowed to sell bottled beer, wine, cider and coolers to takeout and delivery customers, they’re not allowed to market booze in this manner.

Colleague clarified cocktail rules

Raya Konrad, another Clementine co-owner, said the Instagram post was taken down after an industry colleague pointed out she could not sell her cocktails. She said the post was up for 20 minutes.

Less than two hours later, an inspector from the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority paid Clementine a visit in person and issued a warning over the potential sale of the sugary breakfast-booze concoctions.

“It’s just such an asinine thing,” Konrad said Thursday, insisting the vast majority of Winnipeg-area restaurants have spent thousands of dollars dutifully complying with pandemic rules and restrictions while they suffer even greater financial losses and are forced to lay off staff.

“It seems like nobody’s around to enforce all these other bars that are packed or open when they’re not supposed to be open and nobody is getting fined. But then they have an inspector on hand who can come down here like two hours later and then give us grief for, like [trying to] sell cocktails.”

WATCH: Winnipeg restaurant owners question provincial pandemic enforcement priorities

A social media post advertising take-out cocktails attracts the attention of liquor inspectors at a restaurant already hurting from COVID-19 restrictions. 2:31

Manitoba liquor inspectors are among more than 3,200 public employees who’ve been enabled to enforce pandemic restrictions, according to a provincial statement on Thursday.

On April 9, shortly after the start of the pandemic, Premier Brian Pallister announced liquor inspectors would be recruited to enforce pandemic rules.

“They’ll be everywhere, in every neighbourhood, everywhere you are,” Pallister said of enforcement officers at the time. That did not happen.

Manitoba’s enforcement officers, whose ranks now include police officers, fire-safety inspectors and water-resource officers, issued a combined total of 160 pandemic tickets in the 211 days between April 9 and Nov. 4, the premier’s office said in a statement Thursday,

Liquor inspectors handed out nine of those tickets, said Lisa Hansen, a spokesperson for the Manitoba Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority (LGCA).

Raya Konrad says she’s frustrated she received a visit from a liquor inspector over an Instagram post that was up for 20 minutes while some licensees repeatedly violate pandemic orders. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Hansen suggested inspectors with her agency remain busy with their regular duties.

“Although we have been tasked with enforcing public heath orders related to COVID-19, the LGCA’s primary responsibility is to enforce the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Act and ensure the liquor, gaming and cannabis licensees in the province are operating in according to the terms and conditions of their licences,” Hansen said.

Gama and Konrad said inspectors clearly are not busy enough if they have time to troll social media and quickly respond to an ephemeral post.

“They’re deploying their resources to nickel and dime restaurants. They’ve already shut down. It’s just very, very frustrating,” he said.

Gama said the vast majority of Winnipeg restaurants have embraced public health orders intended to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19. Those include capacity restrictions and temporary closures that reduce potential revenue, sanitization requirements that increase operating costs and capital upgrades.

“The amount of money Winnipeg restaurants have spent on Plexiglas has got to be outrageous,” he said, adding he’s not asking for financial assistance from the province.

All he asks for in return for compliance, he said, is some flexibility from the province.

Hansen noted Clementine only received a warning.

“An LGCA inspector visited this restaurant and in keeping with our progressive discipline model, provided education to the licensee,” she said.

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