At Red Deer’s Mom’s Diner business has never been better.
For Leslie Clothier, who runs the diner in West Park with husband Wesley Langlois, the attention has been a welcome (result) of the legal battle they waded into when they opened in defiance of health restrictions in January.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of support. Every day, we see new faces coming from all over Alberta,” said Clothier on Thursday.
“We’ve ended up with more regulars out of the deal. A lot more people know about us now.
“That’s not what we were after in the beginning, but now it’s like a blessing really.”
Clothier and Langlois may pay a price for taking a stand and serving sit-down customers in late January at a time when it was not allowed under health restrictions and the province’s chief medical officer of health repeatedly urged Albertans and businesses to follow the rules.
Only days later, restrictions would be eased to allow limited sit-down dining.
Mom’s Diner was fined $1,200 for breaking the rules. They signed the ticket indicating their not guilty plea and have a June 23 court date. A day after the ticket they were given a summons and will have a second court date on June 29.
Clothier said the legal battle will be hard for small businesses such as hers run by the couple with their son as the cook. Going to court will mean closing the doors that day.
Numerous other small businesses challenging their fines are probably in a similar situation.
“There is a lot of court action out of (health restrictions), and for what because we the people want to be heard and no one’s listening.”
Not all support the stand they took and some see it as “acting out,” she said.
“That’s the way a lot of people see it when they don’t see it from our side, right. It’s not that we’re acting out. We’re standing out for what we believe in.”
Calgary lawyer Chad Williamson represents Mom’s Diner, among 65 or so COVID-related enforcement cases his firm has taken on.
Another client is Nathalie Klein, owner of Innisfail’s Bladez 2 Fadez Barbershop.
Klein briefly celebrated earlier this month when it appeared Public Health Act charges laid against her in January when she opened her business in violation of health restrictions, had been dropped.
However, after the initial charges were dropped due to a “clerical error” they were laid again by RCMP a short time later.
Williamson questions the decision to lay what he calls “re-charges” just after Klein publicly declared victory after the original charges were dropped.
“This looks like a vindictive attempt to stifle her free speech and punishing her for responding publicly to these withdrawals,” he said.
Williamson is looking into the constitutional implications of withdrawing charges only to lay the same charges again soon after.
“This could be a potential abuse of process. We don’t have all the answers. We’re still investigating.
“We plan to aggressively defend Ms. Klein.”
Klein’s case is back in Red Deer provincial court on April 19. Although with various COVID-related restrictions, the case at this early stage will likely be handled through email correspondence with Crown prosecutors.
Williamson said the dozens of clients he is representing include many restaurants, including Mirror’s Whistle Stop Cafe and Bashaw’s Noble Fox in central Alberta.
“We’re not COVID conspiracy theorists. But we are advocates of the rule of law and the principles of procedural fairness and natural justice.”
“We think that all of this is extremely important and there are elements of this that are in jeopardy right now,” he said.
“Oppression and overreach and breaches of natural justice need to be checked.”