Labour minister says 25 tickets issued in big-box store blitz, 242 stores inspected

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TORONTO — Ontario's labour minister says 25 tickets were issued during a weekend inspection blitz of big-box stores that found the majority were following public health rules.

Monte McNaughton says the province ticketed stores for failing to enforce physical distancing and masking rules, and also for failing to have installed some plexi-glass barriers.

He says 242 stores were inspected over the weekend throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

McNaughton says a team of 50 inspectors, with the help of local bylaw officers, conducted the blitz.

The team found 76 contraventions of the rules, the majority of which were dealt with by issuing orders to improve.

McNaughton says the province will ramp up inspections of other workplaces in the coming weeks to ensure pandemic health measures are being followed.

He said that starting today, approximately 300 inspectors will begin to visit restaurants providing take-out meals, essential service businesses like gas stations, and farming operations to ensure rules are being followed.

McNaughton says overall, the inspections revealed that nearly 70 per cent of big-box stores were following the rules.

But the minister said after months of life in the pandemic, the compliance rates should be higher.

"This is truly disappointing," he said. "These corporations must do better. Shareholders have the responsibility to keep their workers and customers safe. I want businesses to know if they won't operate safely in this emergency, you won't operate at all."

Under the provincial rules, corporations can face $1,000 fines and workers can face fines of $750 for not following public health measures.

Meanwhile, York Region shared a list of retailers fined over the last week for violations of Ontario’s Reopening Ontario Act, among them major pharmacy and grocery locations.

Walmart, Shoppers Drug Mart, Sobeys and Costco locations are among those ticketed.

Ontario recently ordered people to only leave their homes for groceries, medical appointments, exercise and work that can’t be completed remotely.

Stores selling non-essential goods have been forced to temporarily close and operate solely through e-commerce and curbside pickups.

The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development said it has conducted more than 34,000 COVID-19 related workplace inspections and halted unsafe work 55 times throughout the pandemic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press