SOUTH Asian MLAs are painstakingly avoiding any comment on Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s decision last week to close down all stand-alone banquet halls – which are owned and run primarily by South Asians, mostly in Surrey – even as members of the BC Banquet Hall Association express their anger and frustration at being singled out for what they say is discrimination.
The Ministry of Health emailed the following to The VOICE on Thursday when asked whether the NDP government was going to compensate the owners of these banquet halls: “This is obviously tough news for banquet hall owners and workers. Dr. Henry doesn’t make these decisions lightly. The situation in B.C. continues to evolve and we’re going to continue to monitor needs as we work through this together. Federal income supports remain in place for workers, including their new Employment Insurance program coming soon. Applications for the Provincial Emergency Benefit for Workers also continue to be open.”
That provides no comfort to the owners who have lost tens of thousands of dollars already and say they can’t pay mortgages and property tax. They are feel particularly discriminated against as they point out that hotel banquet halls with similar business are allowed to operate.
They say they have reached out to Dr. Henry but have received no response even though she has claimed that she tried to work with them. Says Sukh Mann of the BC Banquet Hall Association: “She has never called us or emailed us.”
He says that this government promised them that they would help them, but they have not done anything about it. The banquet hall owners weren’t even warned about the shut down. “Ninety-five per cent of the banquet halls are located in Surrey. Why are we being treated like this?” wonders Mann.
“We have been following the rules and have been practicing operating our venues with COVID-19 rules. We have had zero COVID-19 cases at our banquet halls. We don’t have a reason for being shut down,” he adds.
“Why are we connected with night clubs? We are in the bylaw as “restaurants” – why do we have different rules?” he argues.
It should be noted that these banquet halls are spacious and have the capacity to ensure safe distancing. There are also inspectors who keep a check on them.
The closing actually affects the social life of South Asians who hire these halls for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, you name it. And they can do it while adhering to COVID-19 rules.
Meanwhile, the local NDP MLAs will have to face the music.