Niagara Public Health did receive feedback from Grimsby’s Chamber of Commerce on a controversial medical order

Dr. Hirj Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara Region's acting medical officer at the Niagara Regional Council meeting defending his medical order

Communication issues continue to plague the issue of whether Grimsby restaurants were given an opportunity to provide feedback before a controversial Section 22 medical order targeting restaurants was enacted in the Niagara Region.

The Grimsby Chamber of Commerce now said that it did have a chance to provide feedback to the Niagara Region Public Health a week before the order was finalized and published Nov. 11, reversing a previous statement that it didn’t.

“It appears there is some miscommunication about the Section 22 stuff,” said Grimsby Chamber of Commerce executive director Rebecca Shelley.

The Section 22 order issued Nov. 11 requires restaurants to ensure that anyone seated at a Niagara food or beverage serving business must only be seated with family members. The exception is a non-family member can join if they provide “support” to someone at the table, which is limited to four people.

Meredith Maxwell, spokesperson for the office of Niagara Region’s acting medical officer Dr. Mustafa Hirji, reached out to Shelley to clarify the situation on Monday afternoon.

After that Shelley clarified her position in an email to The Bench News: “Yes, the Region reached out the week before the order, and yes, we provided some preliminary feedback. I understood from the Region that Dr. Hirji’s office said they sent out an email specifically announcing the new restrictions to the Chambers and DIAs. THAT is the communication I did not receive; I heard about it from a communication STC put out, announcing the restrictions.”

What is becoming clear however is that Dr. Hirji’s team has been relying on email to communciate about the order when it was being drafted and when it was announced. Business organizations have also been given little turnaround time to respond. No follow-up phone calls, at least in the case of Grimsby, have been made. No regional councillors were contacted with regard the order by Hirji’s team before it was issued.

Maxwell previously said both the Grimsby Chamber of Commerce (GCC) and the Grimsby Downtown Improvement Area had been contacted by email with a request to consult with their constituents on the then-pending medical order which was later issued Nov. 11.

“The email (to Shelley) was sent by our employee Grant Durfey at 12:22 (p.m.) on Nov. 5 and the subject was ‘Possible Section 22 Order for Bars and Restaurants’,” said Maxwell.

Shelley initially had erroneously said no email was received by the chamber from Hirji’s office seeking. feedback.

Separately, Mike Williscaft, President of Grimsby’s Downtown Improvement Area, said he had not received any communication from NRPH: “Regarding DIA, no, I have not received any contact in any form from Niagara Regional Health regarding potential COVID-19 policy impacts or any other inquiry,” he said.

Maxwell claims both Williscraft and Shelley’s emails were CCed when the order was issued. Those emails do not appear to have landed.

At the Niagara Regional Council’s emergency meeting last Thursday, Dr. Mustafa Hirji the acting regional medical officer, was questioned by councillors about his controversial Section 22 order that resulted in a revolt from an alliance of Niagara restaurants.

When queried by Grimsby mayor Jeff Jordan at that meeting, Hirji said that no one in Grimsby had been reached or consulted on the Section 22 order that was being considered at the time. Hirji also said at the meeting that his team had reached out to chambers of commerce and business improvement area grounds for all affected Niagara Region communities.

The emergency meeting was convened after Niagara Restaurants United, a group consisting of Niagara hospitality businesses and workers, headed by Grimsby restaurateur Mark Wood, owner of The Fotry Public House, had taken Niagara politicians to task over the Section 22 order.

Wood also spoke at the emergency Niagara Regional Council meeting and implored Hirji and the regional council to rescind the order saying it will result in industry-wide layoffs and bankruptcies if left in place.

After the meeting, Niagara Region Council issued a four-part recommendation that urged Hirji to rescind the order.

The council’s lead recommendation said: “That Regional Council RECOMMEND that the Acting Medical Officer of Health amend the directive under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act with respect to who can be seated at a table at a restaurant and to remove the requirement limited to household members only.”

A spokesman at Regional Chair Jim Bradley’s office said a response from Hirji responding to the recommendation is expected by this Thursday. “Dr. Hirji’s next appearance before council is Nov. 27 during the update workshop. I would suspect that he may respond to Council’s recommendation at that time,” said Daryl Barnhart, spokesperson for Bradley’s office.

Grimsby’s Regional Councillor Wayne Fertich told The Bench News he had not received any emails from Dr. Hirji’s office in the lead up to the order’s release. However, this was a complaint communicated to Dr. Hirji last Thursday from several councillors. Regional councillors were not consulted before Hirji issued his Section 22 order and say they were caught off guard when it was issued.