B.C. Banquet Hall Association calls public health order shutting down halls ‘discrimination’

The president of the B.C. Banquet Hall Association is lashing out at the B.C. government, following a public health order on Tuesday that shut down standalone banquet facilities.

Sukh Mann, the president of the association which represents about 20 banquet halls in Surrey, Richmond and Vancouver, said on Thursday that his industry has followed all the rules but is being unfairly targeted by the B.C. government in what he claims amounts to discrimination.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, announced the banquet halls closure, along with rules closing nightclubs and restricting hours when liquor can be served.

But Mann questioned the decision to include banquet halls, suggesting it was not only discriminatory toward the industry, but the South Asian community, where the halls are popular for weddings.

“I believe it is a total case of discrimination against our industry, against our people, because, yes … where are all these banquet halls that you’ve shut down? They’re only in Surrey. There’s a few in Richmond, a couple in Vancouver,” he said.

A person sits at a table at Aria Banquet Hall in Surrey, British Columbia on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Rachna Singh, the B.C. NDP MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers, said she doesn’t agree with the accusation of discrimination, saying it has nothing to do with racism.

On Thursday, Henry told reporters that the banquet hall industry is one that has posed challenges for transmission of the virus, as well as contact tracing.

‘We’ve had increasing and continuing exposure events’

“We’ve started to see that parties were being held, sometimes multigenerational parties for great celebrations and they were sources of transmission of this virus in many different situations,” she said, adding that the Lower Mainland facilities were a big part of the issue, but that it includes the whole province.

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“We’ve worked with [the nightclub and banquet hall] industries to try to put in place the safety protocols, but we’ve had increasing and continuing exposure events that have led to more transmission, as well as second generation events,” said Henry, referring to cases where infected people have transmitted the virus to others.

Mann suggested that this public health order is part of a pattern of decisions by the government that have unfairly targeted the South Asian community, including allowing Uber, which he says targeted the taxi industry and restricting the size of homes on farmland.

‘They’ve killed our business’

At a news conference on Thursday, he said the association has tried to get answers from the government but hasn’t heard anything back.

“Nobody is replying to us,” said Mann.

Michael Ghirra, a member of the B.C. Banquet Association, told reporters that the problem isn’t the halls but rather private events being held on farms, where caterers and tent rental businesses continue to operate.

He also questioned why event spaces in hotels weren’t included in the public health order when standalone halls were.

“Basically, they’ve killed our business,” said Ghirra. 

The association took a clear position against the B.C. NDP, saying it has had discussions with B.C. Liberal MLAs who would take up their cause in Victoria.

“We will not be holding any NDP functions, whether it be fundraiser or campaigning or our support for this term — this election term,” said Ghirra. “If they’re not doing anything for us, we feel why should we do anything for them?”

MLA Singh — who said she has had invitations to 20 weddings in and around Surrey this year, but they’ve all been either cancelled or limited to direct family — expressed sympathy for the owners of the banquet halls but defended the public health order.

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“It is not discriminatory to South Asian people,” she said.

“These health orders have come have come from the provincial health officer and these orders are not made lightly,” said Singh, adding that Henry isn’t a politician.

“A lot of scientific research goes into it.”

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Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

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