‘Extremely disappointing’: Niagara big-box store blitz turns up compliance issues

bigbox store Walmart Photo credit: Bigstock

Niagara Region big-box stores were pulled into the province’s enforcement blitz this past weekend.

Announced earlier this month by labour minister, Monte McNaughton, the big-box store blitz focuses on proper masking, physical distancing and complying with health and safety measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Over 125 Niagara businesses were visited on the weekend by ministry inspectors, press secretary Harry Godfrey confirmed in an email on Tuesday.

Of those stores, “only 54 per cent were in compliance,” McNaughton told Niagara This Week during a Monday (Jan. 25) phone call.

The minister called the weekend result “extremely disappointing.”

Coincidentally, inspections of 267 Niagara businesses by the province in a blitz this past December also found that only 54 per cent of the businesses visited were in compliance with COVID-19 safety measures.

Walmart and Costco locations in Niagara were visited in the recent blitz, along with grocery store chains under the Loblaws banner.

Godfrey confirmed that in Niagara, inspectors found 68 “total contraventions” with at least 22 tickets issued and five occupational health and safety orders.

The three most common violations were inadequate pre-screening of workers and customers, exceeding capacity limits, and a lack of safety plans, according to McNaughton.

Gone are the opportunities for education, said the minister. 

“We’re past that now. It’s about enforcing the laws that are in place; businesses at this point in the pandemic know what they need to do to keep COVID-19 from entering the workplace,” he said, adding that big corporations need to “take this seriously” and “step up.”

Customers can also be ticketed by inspectors for refusing to wear a mask.

“The ministry of labour has been given, as of a week ago, powers to actually ticket people if you’re not wearing masks properly and not physically distancing,” the minister said.

On Monday, McNaughton was unsure exactly how many inspectors were involved locally, but said 107 were involved in simultaneous blitzes in Ottawa, Windsor, Niagara and Durham over the weekend.

In total, over 640 businesses we revisited resulting in over 80 tickets and 100 orders being issued.

Earlier this month, Niagara Region staff completed their own inspections over seven days, visiting a total of 62 businesses, issuing seven formal warnings and three fines of $750 each.

— With files from The St. Catharines Standard