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Businesses here next on ‘hit’ list

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He’s making his list and checking it twice.

No, that’s not Santa, but Bill Limerick, environmental health team leader for the Northwestern Health Unit, whose team of six inspectors is finding out who’s been naughty and nice with respect to complying with the health unit’s ban on smoking in all enclosed public places.

The regulation came into effect on Jan. 1, but Limerick said Wednesday not everyone is getting the message.

So far, at least four Kenora-area businesses have received cease-and-desist orders from the health unit—and more will be issued against suspected violators in Rainy River District as early as Wednesday.

“Yes, there are notices pending against Rainy River [District businesses],” said Limerick, though he was unable to give specific details since the investigation is still ongoing.

Limerick said the process of enforcing the regulation is somewhat complex. It is not, he says, as simple as walking in and imposing fines.

“We don’t actually lay charges,” he explained. “First, we go in and warn them. Next, we issue a cease-and-desist order.

“The business then has 15 days to appeal the order to the Health Protection and Promotion Appeal Board.”

Limerick added the order remains in effect during that appeal period so if the business still is in violation, a failure-to-obey order is the next step. At this stage, the inspectors can begin to assess fines, but ultimately, the matter will go to provincial court, where a judge has the final say.

Limerick said the process is further complicated by the need to serve the notices on the appropriate people in a timely manner so when it gets to court, the case is solid.

“It’s important that we issue the orders to the right people and the documentation is all in order,” he stressed. “Otherwise, it might get thrown out [of court] on a technicality.

“That’s why it’s taking so long.”

Under the current regulation, violators can be fined up to a maximum $5,000 a day for each smoking infraction after the cease-and-desist order has been issued.

Several businesses in the Kenora area have banded together in an attempt to fight the health unit’s ban. So far, there hasn’t been much similar activity in Rainy River District.

Allan Tibbetts, president of the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, said his group has not taken a definitive position on the matter.

“As an organization, we haven’t taken a position because of a division of opinion among our members,” said Tibbetts. “Because of that, we’re not really in a position to have an opinion.”

Tibbetts added the opinion of local Chamber members closely reflects that of the public at large: roughly two-thirds feel the smoking ban is a good idea while one-third are opposed.

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