This year has been a nightmare for small-business owners in Canada. One-in-seven small businesses are at risk of going under or are considering bankruptcy or winding down their operations because of COVID-19 a Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) report found. The report says we could lose between 55,000 (5 per cent) and 218,000 (19 per cent) businesses depending on how the recovery goes. Most business owners have experienced decreased revenues, forced layoffs, and significant operational changes responding to pandemic restrictions.
Yet, Adam Skelly thinks he and his restaurant are more important than anyone, any law or any business. And it’s maddening.
Skelly owns three restaurants in Toronto called Adamson BBQ. For three consecutive days following the Ontario government’s announcement that Toronto would move into “grey zone” lockdown, Skelly defiantly opened his Etobicoke restaurant for indoor dining. To make matters worse, dozens of people — many of whom were unmasked — gathered outside the restaurant to protest government restrictions. Which is dangerous and counterproductive.
Under Ontario’s grey classification, restaurants, bars and food or drink establishments are limited to takeout, delivery and drive-through. Skelly was arrested on November 26, and faces at least nine charges. If found guilty of violating the Reopening Act, he could be fined up to $500,000, and spend up to one-year imprisonment.
Skelly and his defenders argue that they’re standing up for individual rights and the livelihoods of small-business owners. But all it really is is an egregious example of entitlement and white privilege.
Skelly’s privilege and entitlement
Blatant disregard for the law isn’t limited to the pandemic. A Toronto Star report revealed that two of Skelly’s three restaurants have been operating without a business license. The first of the three restaurants opened in 2016 and has never had a business license. Skelly and his corporation have been convicted three times for not having the license, and he’s paid a total of $800.
It costs $510.65 to get your business license plus a $307.80 annual renewal fee. Meanwhile, the maximum fine for an individual convicted of operating without a license is $25,000. Twice that for a corporation. To say that Skelly got away with a slap on the wrist is an understatement.
Skelly blamed “tight cash flow” and signing the lease for his Etobicoke restaurant days before the first lockdown as the reason why it doesn’t have a business license, according to The Star. As if that’s a valid excuse. Statistics Canada found that 60 per cent of businesses reported a revenue loss of 20 per cent or more comparing Q1-2019 to Q1-2020.
According to a Black Business and Professional Association survey, 80 per cent of Black-owned businesses lacked the cash reserves necessary to meet financial obligations in April. Nearly all of the respondents worried that they’d have to close permanently.
It’s not fair
Skelly purports himself as a champion for freedom and small businesses but that’s just a convenient facade. His cries of “we won’t let the government determine what is and isn’t essential,” is really just bellyaching at the fact that he can’t have his way. He’s not a hero, he’s selfish.
Premier Doug Ford said “it’s not fair” that small businesses have to close and I agree, it’s not. But it affects everyone and that’s fair. Skelly circumventing the law to get an advantage, that’s unfair. His sense of entitlement and positioning himself as the victim is disgusting.
Skelly, a 33-year-old white male, was able to operate his restaurant for four years without a license. Meanwhile, initiatives to help people experiencing homelessness or fight food insecurity were shut down after two and four months, respectively.
A GoFundMe campaign was started to raise money for Skelly’s legal fees shortly after his arrest. In the 10 days it’s been active, the campaign’s generated at least $319,733. Which is ridiculous. Despite his dishevelled appearance, Skelly comes from money. He owns three businesses and his father owned the property where he opened his first smokehouse. This is not someone who needs or deserves the money and attention he’s garnered.
That’s what’s irked most about this whole ordeal. This dumpster fire of a story takes up so much oxygen. Thousands of businesses are at risk of closing permanently that haven’t got a fraction of the attention or support as Skelly. Crews and Tangos is a staple of Toronto’s Gay Village, and one of the few venues where you can see drag performances and drag performers can earn a living. The iconic gay bar is at risk of closing down forever because of the pandemic. Its crowdfunding campaign, which started the same week as Skelly’s, has only raised $21,519.
The pandemic has ravaged the economy and left many businesses languishing. Now more than ever, with the holidays around the corner, it’s important to support the businesses you care about and the businesses that need it most. Not entitled brats who put profit over people.
Marcus is a poet, editor and freelance journalist based in Toronto. He currently works with New Canadian Media as an Editor and as a Freelance Writer for ByBlacks.com, The Edge: A Leader's Magazine and The Soapbox Press.