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Ottawa police investigate Whole Foods for defying holiday shopping law

04/03/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 06/02/2015 05:59 EDT
Ottawa police responded to a packed Whole Foods at Lansdowne Park after receiving a complaint that the grocery store was defying a provincial law that requires most businesses to be closed on Good Friday.

The Ontario Retail Business Holiday Act calls for stores to be closed on nine major holidays — including Good Friday and Easter Sunday — unless the businesses are:

- gas stations.

- some small shops.

- pharmacies under 7,500 sq. feet.

- nurseries, flower shops or gardening centres.

- stores in specific tourist centres, such as the ByWard Market.

Lansdowne Park is not designated a tourist centre, according to information from the City of Ottawa, but Whole Foods manager Lisa Slater told CBC News on Thursday that the store was going to keep its doors open over the Easter weekend.

"We are here for our community. The community is out and about, they're not working and we want to be able to serve the community and give them what they want," said Slater.

Businesses can fined up to $50,000 or the total amount of gross sales for the holiday, whichever is greater, while the minimum fine for a first offence is $500.

Ottawa police said they don't patrol for open stores on holidays, but they do respond to rare complaints.

Investigating officer Sgt. Steve Desjourdy said charges are possible.

"I'll be following up with a provincial prosecutor next week to discuss what has been found," he said. "The prosecutor will help determine what other steps need to be done and/or if charges are warranted in that specific case."

'Arcane' law benefits Gatineau businesses

Ottawa retail consultant Barry Nabatian said Ottawa businesses are unhappy with the law and its patchwork of exemptions.

He said the law discriminates against local merchants, especially when Gatineau stores just across the river are open for business to a steady stream of Ottawa shoppers.

The City of Toronto found a way around the law in 2006 — passing its own law that came into effect in 2007 that effectively made it exempt from the Ontario Retail Business Holiday Act.

"The law is very arcane, very restrictive, and not fair for everybody," says Nabatian, who estimates some $30 million in sales goes to Gatineau instead of Ottawa on Good Friday.

The President of the Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff said he'd like to see the law enforced, and says people who work in retail deserve the opportunity to have some rest and spend time with their families. 

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