Practically, that means bars, restaurants, and nightclubs have joined strip clubs among the businesses that are no longer allowed to serve customers indoors.
Strip clubs have been prohibited from doing so since September 26th.
The decision to shut them down before everything else was the subject of at least two recent articles by current and former dancers.
In the Toronto Star, Barbara Sarpong asked: “If those other establishments are allowed to open, why aren’t we able to continue working?”
In the Globe and Mail, Marci Warshaft made almost the same case: “the province’s strip clubs are the only ones that, after being allowed to open at the start of Stage 3, have been ordered to shut down.”
And then she went on: “COVID-19 numbers are surging, and I completely understand the need to tighten our restrictions until we can get things under control. However, the callous way in which these restrictions are being enforced seems thoughtless and even misogynistic.”
The province’s initial explanation was hardly helpful: “Private social gatherings continue to be a significant source of transmission in many local communities, along with outbreak clusters in restaurants, bars, and other food and drink establishments, including strip clubs, with most cases in the 20-39 age group.”
Indeed, it could easily have been read to reinforce the idea that targeting strip clubs was, most generously, arbitrary.
I strongly suspect that was not the case.
A follow-up comment from the Ministry of Health, indicating that “contract tracing logs kept by the clubs were ‘often incomplete’,” seems to point to the real reason.
CTV News reported that after one outbreak, contact tracers couldn’t reach some 300 different attendees who might have been exposed because they had provided the club with phony contact information when they entered.
There is little incentive to hide your identity if you are dining at a restaurant. I suspect that many patrons of strip clubs are less comfortable confirming their presence.
So unless club managers are willing to demand photo ID and insist on working cell phone numbers and legitimate email addresses (and perhaps some would), welcoming patrons to strip clubs appears to pose a significantly greater risk to the spread of COVID-19 than does eating at a restaurant.
The issue might be moot for now – in Toronto, Peel, and Ottawa, at least – but I think there is a more significant lesson here.
Over the last nine months, Canadians have rewarded politicians who have embraced openness and authenticity in their response to this pandemic.
Many of us have been willing to forgive our elected officials for their flawed pandemic preparedness and action plans when we have sensed that they understand our concerns and are doing their best to respond to them.
I thought that Ontario premier Doug Ford – whose authenticity has always seemed genuine – got this, but the way his government dealt with closing strip clubs makes me less sure.
I recognize that Canadians are divided over the legitimacy of sex work. In this case, however, that really doesn’t matter.
Strip clubs are legal in Ontario, and when those in the industry lost their livelihoods to a decision from Queen’s Park, they deserved the same honesty and clarity as the rest of us.
Shame on the government for not giving it to them.
To learn more about political communication in Canada, take a look at Alex Marland, Thierry Giasson and Tamara A. Small’s book with that very title.
In other news, I just received my copy of Patrice Dutil’s new edited collection, The Unexpected Louis St-Laurent: Politics and Policies for a Modern Canada. It will be available for purchase (in hardcover and pdf) on November 1st and is a must for Canadian political history junkies.
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