John Tory “dismayed” by anti-vax protests outside restaurant

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he is “disappointed and dismayed” by the behaviour of anti-vax protestors who have been confronting patio patrons outside Bar Vendetta on Dundas West for weeks.

The mayor’s statement on Monday came after restaurant owner Jen Agg expressed frustration that politicians and police have been standing by in the face of behaviour that she says tipped over into “trashy harassment.”

“For weeks now, we have been targeted by loud, misguided, hugely invasive anti-vaxxers,” Agg wrote on Twitter. “They are disruptive to my neighbours, scream at our wonderful, supportive guests [and] staff [and] chant my name while yelling I’m a ‘Nazi, racist piece of shit queen bigot’ for hours.”

Agg shared a video of the protestors chanting “no vaccine passports” on the sidewalk disrupting the patrons trying to enjoy Bar Vendetta’s outdoor dining option. She has said the protestors targeted her business after she tweeted in support of vaccine passports in July. However, Bar Vendetta has no vaccination policy and is not open for indoor dining.

“I am in shock that John Tory and [Premier Doug Ford] are leaving us to deal [with] this,” Agg wrote.

Her message got a signal boost from Moonlight director Barry Jenkins and Schitt’s Creek creator Dan Levy, who also expressed dismay at how the anti-vax protestors are “disturbing the peace, violating patrons’ personal space and actively sabotaging the livelihood of restaurant owners.”

At NOW press time, Ford’s executive director of media relations, Ivana Yelich, did not respond to NOW’s request for comment. Ford has publicly opposed vaccine passports.

In his statement, Tory, who has had his own outdoor dining experience disrupted and recorded by a man criticizing his lockdown measures, reiterated his own support for a provincial vaccine passport policy for businesses.

“It’s totally unacceptable for people under the guise of protest to disrupt Toronto restaurants and other businesses and mistreat and harass their customers,” Tory said. “Elected officials don’t direct police enforcement but I do believe there does come a time when protest crosses the line into mischief and harassment. That is one of the challenges of policing but I did bring it to the attention of Toronto Police Chief Ramer today.”

At least one city councillor agrees that the protestors are harassing Agg and her customers.

“To me, what we’re witnessing is clearly harassment,” Spadina-Fort York city councillor and Toronto Board of Health chair Joe Cressy tells NOW. “This isn’t about free speech, rather it’s harassment, plain and simple. It also re-enforces the need for a clear and consistent provincial approach to vaccine certificates. Individual businesses should not be forced to carry the burden – and deal with the harassment – of having to make up vaccine policies and approaches on their own.” 

On Saturday, the anti-vax protestors were met for the first time with a counter-protest. Toronto Police communications officer Connie Osborne told NOW that officers responded to a call at approximately 6:30 pm and separated two “groups of protestors involved in a heated disagreement.”

“Officers separated both groups and people were allowed to continue to protest peacefully,” Osborne says. “Police remained on scene to monitor the situation, ensure the safety of everyone and keep the peace. Pedestrians were able to pass on the sidewalk and several protesters were cautioned for language. No arrests were made and the protestors later dispersed.”

Osborne adds that officers from 14 Division are continuing to work with Agg to address concerns.

Police reaction “noteworthy and inconsistent”

Another video, posted on August 7 by lawyer Caryma Sa’d shows a female protestor invading the personal space of other patrons, trying to record their faces and threatening to spit on them.

Sa’d tells NOW that she showed that video to officers, who she says told her that they couldn’t do anything about it since the patron had already left.

“The police reaction overall, I think is noteworthy and inconsistent with how they deal with other forms of protest,” says Sa’d, who observed that many of the Bar Vendetta protestors are regulars on the anti-mask, anti-lockdown and anti-vax scene.

She echoed others on social media who have been pointing out how aggressively police handle protestors at encampment clearings but are not dealing with anti-lockdown or anti-vaxx protests in the same way.

“This protest is actively looking to engage people, instigate people, provoke people. And it’s kind of a public nuisance,” she says.

Sa’d also wondered why the anti-vax protestors are targeting Agg, reiterating that Agg has not implemented any policy restricting service. “It doesn’t really make sense to me that they keep showing up.”

Agg told Global News that she believes her support of vaccine passports and her social media profile is drawing their attention. Her comments have also drawn the attention of Adam Skelly, the anti-lockdown agitator behind Adamson BBQ. On August 8, he posted Agg’s comments on his Instagram stories and then added a swipe-up link to her Google business listing.


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