Two fire safety workers suspended after Montreal restaurant terraces forced to close during Grand Prix weekend

"I'm ashamed of my city," says Sandra Ferreira of Ferreira Café, as an inspector with the Montreal fire department ordered some restaurants to close their terraces for alleged safety code violations over Grand Prix weekend. Swidda Rassy reports.

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante says she’s demanding answers after restaurants were forced to close their terraces, allegedly due to “dangerous conditions,” during the Grand Prix weekend – despite having all the paperwork required to operate the outside portion of the restaurant.

The City on Monday afternoon said they suspended two fire safety workers from the Montreal fire department and they will be conducting an internal administrative investigation to shed light on what happened, calling it a communication issue.

“They asked to speak to me, and they mandated that we evacuated the terrace because we were not following regulations,” said Sandra Ferreira, Groupe Ferreira general director, about what happened to her on Friday night at Ferreira Café.

“I could not believe that they were there, that they were so many. Like it was very imposing. Every customer was turning their head around like trying to understand. They were [coming] to see me. ‘Can I help you?’ You know, there was really that sense of a bit of panic, I can say.”

Ferreira Café terrace on Peel in Montreal, hours before city inspectors closed it. June 7, 2024. (Martin Daigle, CityNews Image)

At 9 p.m. last Friday, fire safety inspectors from the Montreal fire department told Ferreira to close her restaurant’s terrace in the middle of service because it was 58 centimeters too close to the building, posing a potential fire risk as the terrace had a tent.

Ferreira says that earlier in April, she got approval from the City of Montreal to set it up. And towards the end of April, the terrace was open to customers. She had explained all of this weeks ago when the inspectors first visited her restaurant, but the second time around – they closed it down.

“I’m ashamed of my city. Like all our customers from all around the world, like seeing this happen and happen in other establishments with that level of pressure and we felt intimidated,” said Ferreira.

She took to Instagram to post about her experience over the weekend. The seven-minute long, tear-filled video went viral with over 2 million views.

Sandra Ferreira, Groupe Ferreira director of operations
Sandra Ferreira, director of operations for Groupe Ferreira in Montreal. June 10, 2024. (Swidda Rassy, CityNews Image)

“Not only did it happen to over half a dozen businesses in downtown during Grand Prix weekend, but we have many similar stories happening over the past decades in our restaurant industry,” said Glenn Castanheira, the executive director of Montréal Centre-Ville.

Castanheira says Ferreira’s situation is not an isolated incident, and that many businesses choose not to speak out in fear of reprisal.

“These inspectors have a tremendous amount of power. They can interpret the bylaws and the rules, the way that these seem fit in many cases, and they can threaten to shut down a place based on their own interpretation from one second to the next,” said Castanheira.

City hall opposition: ‘We still don’t have answers’

“Not sure that it was a mistake that was made, but what we are questioning is the approach,” said Luc Rabouin, the executive committee chair of the City of Montreal. “What happened was unacceptable.”

Rabouin went down to Peel street to meet with restaurant owners on Monday and work he said to find solutions, after Mayor Plante had said that an administrative post-mortem was taking place in the morning to discuss how the situation was handled and to establish the timeline of events.

“It was a shock for them, for us, for their clientele and of course Montreal’s image was affected as well,” he said at a press conference outside Ferreira Café. “We cannot decide the operations of the SIM as elected officials but sincerely I think that there are other ways to be sure that we are able to enforce [the rules] and coming during the rush hour doesn’t seem to be the best idea.”

In addition to the post-mortem, the mayor has said she would be requesting a meeting with the fire department and the Ville-Marie borough.

City hall opposition Ensemble Montréal is joining its voice to those calling on the administration and the fire department to explain why shocked customers were ordered off the patios during one of the busiest nights of the year.

Ensemble Montréal says a meeting should be held in front of city council, so the public can get answers on what it’s calling a “monumental fiasco” that tarnished the city’s reputation.

“Again today we still don’t have any answers from the Plante administration regarding what happened and what is going to be happening over the next few days, over the next few weeks, to help all of the business owners that have difficulties over the weekend,” said Julien Hénault-Ratelle, Ensemble Montréal critic for economic development.

“What happened is the result of the lack of coordination and communication between the Montreal fire department and the Ville-Marie borough – which is the borough of Mayor Valérie Plante.”

Luc Rabouin, Executive committee chair for the city of Montreal
Luc Rabouin, Executive committee chair for the city of Montreal, at a press conference in front of Ferreira Café on Peel. June 10, 2024. (Martin Daigle, CityNews Image)

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante on Saturday posted to social media and said she was “shaken” by Ferreira’s account.

“The SIM teams have confirmed the compliance of the terraces on Peel Street,” she wrote.

“The responsibility of the (SIM) is to ensure the safety of citizens and visitors. The SIM must ensure constant dialogue and continue the search for solutions to combine security and vitality of the businesses that we all love.”

-With files from the Canadian Press

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