Ticket offenders, rather than close movie theatres, says Cinémas Guzzo head

Quebec more interested in ‘perception,’ than dealing effectively with COVID, says Vince Guzzo

Although the provincial government announced last week that $50 million in compensation will be paid to the operators of cultural venues and live theatres to offset the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, film theatre chain executive Vince Guzzo is wondering why Quebec is penalizing companies like his, while doing nothing to actually enforce COVID-19 sanitation regulations.

Closed until Oct. 28

Never one to mince words, Cinémas Guzzo president Vince Guzzo, centre, says the Quebec government seems interested only in creating a “perception” that it is actively doing something to deal with COVID-19, while needlessly hurting movie theatre owners by forcing them to close during the pandemic. File photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia

Under new regulations that came into effect in the Montreal region last week in the highest-alert “red” zones decreed by Quebec to combat the spread of COVID-19, cinemas, bars, theatres, casinos and museums are closed from Oct. 1 to Oct. 28.

Guzzo, whose family founded the Cinémas Guzzo chain 46 years ago, is incensed that the government seems to prefer not taking concrete action against individuals who are openly breaking sanitary rules, while penalizing companies by forcing them to shut – even though they’ve complied with all the regulations.

A feeling of powerlessness

“The day that my behavior – that is what I do or don’t do – is no longer relevant to what happens, and whether my theatres are open or not, means I have become the most powerless person that exists,” Guzzo said in an interview this week with Newsfirst Multimedia.

‘Whoever doesn’t respect the rules, shut them down. But don’t shut down a whole industry,’ says Cinémas Guzzo president

“In other words, if you’re closing my theatres not because we violated confinement laws, not because we have COVID cases coming out of movie theatres, not because we’re a high-risk market – and you’ve got to remember we were shut down beginning in March – once we re-opened and after operating in July, August and September and there were zero cases coming out of movie theatres, and zero media coverage saying we were not respecting the rules – and everybody was saying there was no issue with movie theatres – but the government still shuts us down.

A perception problem

“But they don’t shut down shopping malls, they don’t shut down gyms and other stuff,” he continued. “So now there’s a problem. And that problem is that we’re being shut down for perception reasons. That’s where the problem is: we are literally in a position where whatever we do or whatever we don’t do is irrelevant.”

While noting that Premier François Legault made it abundantly clear while announcing the new regulations last week that the government was determined to stop people from socializing, Guzzo said he was outraged that Quebec didn’t include parks and other publicly-owned gathering places in the ban.

“When you see that they couldn’t control who was playing the tam-tam at the park,” he said, noting the public drumming events that drew large crowds to the edge of Mount Royal this past summer, in defiance of the government’s standing recommendation against holding large gatherings.

Damned if we do or don’t

“Don’t blame us – shut down your parks,” added Guzzo, maintaining that Cinémas Guzzo meticulously followed all the sanitation rules imposed by the government. “You know, we’ve actually been controlling our premises. It’s a very awkward situation to be in. Damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”

Guzzo’s reading of the government’s message goes like this: “We’re going to shut down theatres because you are a socializing outlet. Whether you are a problem socializing outlet or not is irrelevant to them. We’re shutting you down, they’re saying. Which is what’s bothersome.

“My argument with the Legault government is: whoever doesn’t respect the rules, shut them down. But don’t shut down a whole industry. Shut down the restaurant that’s violating the rules. The bar that’s violated the rules. Shut down whoever’s not getting these rules respected.”

Why no tickets, asks Guzzo

Regarding the province’s notable hesitation up to now to aggressively ticket individual sanitation rule violators, Guzzo said, “They should be giving tickets. When CNESST [Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail] comes into my theatres or onto my construction sites, if there’s something wrong I get a ticket. So how come the government isn’t doing that with such a severe situation as COVID-19?”

(For the record, Guzzo pointed out that Cinémas Guzzo wasn’t cited even once since re-opening in July for any alleged failure to abide by the COVID-19 sanitation regulations.) He suggested that the government seems more interested in maintaining a “perception” that it is taking effective action to deal with the pandemic, while not going after those who are actually causing it and making it worse.