A website that listed businesses in Ontario with fully vaccinated staff or require customers to show proof of vaccination has shut down after less than a week.
Lawyer Brandon Mattalo launched SafeTO-Do after the province entered step 3 of the opening plan, which allowed indoor dining, gyms, movie theatres, museums and other shuttered businesses and cultural institutions to resume.
As of July 20, the website listed 38 Ontario establishments with vaccine policies, from restaurants to dance studios to strip clubs.
Later the same day, Mattalo tweeted that he took the SafeTO-Do listings down after receiving hateful messages.
“Whenever I add a new business, there is a group of people (a small minority), who attack those businesses by leaving fake Google reviews, making false bookings at their restaurants and sending hateful messages to them,” he wrote in a Twitter thread. “I cannot, therefore, in good conscience continue to add businesses to the website, because I cannot be certain that they will not be attacked by the same people.”
This was a hard, but necessary decision to make. It has been a whirlwind the past few days, and I have more empathy than ever for those who have been in these situations before. I have never experienced it firsthand, until now. https://t.co/QfxSUU7OAZ— Brandon Mattalo (@BrandonMattalo) July 21, 2021
Mattalo added he heard from businesses listed on the site that they had positive feedback, but he also received a “significant number of personal hate messages” including one he said he reported to police.
“The messages have become increasingly personal, directed and hateful,” he wrote.
He said the site was designed to be an “apolitical” resource for people concerned about personal risk when patronizing businesses or who have medical conditions that put them at higher risk of catching COVID-19.
SafeTO-Do listed the business, the city it is located in and links to online announcements about vaccination policies. Owners could also send messages on Twitter to update information on the site or have their business removed.
Parkdale restaurant Chantecler and butcher shop Chantecler Boucherie, which was listed on SafeTO-Do, shared screen shots on Twitter of one-star online reviews received in the past week – even though the restaurant portion burned down in 2019.
Dundas East strip club Filmores Gentlemen’s Club was also among the businesses listed on the site. The club made headlines last week after the manager announced a mandatory double vaccination policy for all staff and customers.
Can you imagine writing false reviews for a restaurant that burned down in 2019 because you’re afraid of vaccination? pic.twitter.com/x9mRlPdvFb— Chantecler (@ChanteclerTO) July 17, 2021
Asked about the backlash to SafeTO-Do at a city hall press conference on Wednesday, Mayor John Tory said the issue has become one that’s “into the realm of small-p politics as opposed to health.”
“This… is something that is in need of some greater guidance for those businesses and maybe businesses sitting together to discuss this,” he said, adding there is a chance that business owners could face “very negative, divisive incidents” that could place Toronto’s economic recovery in jeopardy.”
He said business owners, labour and government need to meet to discuss guidance for employers.
“At the same time, we have to be mindful of people’s right to privacy. It’s a very difficult issue and ultimately I think there will be some guidance that will be asked for.”
Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Eileen de Villa added the city is in a “novel” circumstance and said ongoing discussions between the city and province are needed to come up with “evidence-informed policies that can perhaps be put into place that are effective in terms of increasing both vaccination coverage and increasing confidence in vaccines.”
COVID safe passes
While a proof of vaccination policy could allay virus transmission concerns among staff and customers, business leaders argue a proof-of-vaccine document is needed to allow businesses to survive potential future lockdowns.
The Toronto Region Board of Trade (TRBT) had called on the Ontario government to create “COVID safe passes,” which would indicate a person is negative for COVID-19 “either through vaccination or a recent neg test.”
The TRBT says the passes would allow businesses deemed non-essential to remain open if cases of the virus surge, leading to a fourth-wave lockdown.
“A COVID Safe Pass would *not* be mandatory, nor would vaccinations or testing,” the TRBT said in a Twitter thread. “However, it would reward people for being vaccinated or regularly testing by allowing them to visit non-essential businesses even if cases rise – also allowing businesses to retain workers & customers.”
Premier Doug Ford has ruled out a provincial vaccine passport policy and Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer Kieran Moore has said the documents are not necessary at this time.
“The answer is no, we’re not gonna do it,” Ford told reporters when asked about vaccine passports during a July 15 news conference. “We’re not gonna have a split society.”
People who are vaccinated receive an email receipt in PDF form that lists the date and time of their shots that can be used as proof. Copies of the receipts can also be downloaded from the province’s vaccine portal.
COVID-19 vaccinations are not mandatory in Ontario but the province is strongly encouraging residents to get immunization to curb virus spread. The Ford government has not issued vaccination guidance for employers.
To date, 70 per cent of all people in the province have had one shot and more than 54 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Update (July 21, 2021, 12 pm): This story was updated with comments from Toronto Mayor John Tory and Medical Officer of Health Eileen de Villa.