Social media posts in the last few days have indicated that there’s a general concern out there about businesses taking advantage of the pandemic by gouging customers on highly in-demand items. In an announcement on Saturday, the Ontario government introduced some new measures designed to make businesses think twice before trying to profit from the pandemic.
“Starting today, we are taking serious steps to ensure our frontline workers, our families and our most vulnerable citizens have what they need to stay safe,” said Premier Doug Ford. “We are putting an end to those trying to profit off of one of the darkest periods in our province’s history. If you’re engaging in price gouging on necessary goods, we are going to slap you with a ticket or you could face fines or jail time.”
Ford is not joking around. According to new emergency orders that are effective immediately, individuals can face a ticket of $750, or, if convicted in court, can face a maximum penalty of $100,000 and one year in jail. For company directors or officers, that could end up being a fine up to $500,000 and up to one year in jail while the corporation could be slapped with a fine of up to $10 million.
At a Thursday press availability, Ford was asked about a social media post showing a store in the specialty food chain Pusateri’s selling Lysol disinfecting wipes for nearly $30 per container at one of their Toronto outlets. Ford called the move “absolutely disgusting,” and vowed to crackdown on future examples.
Locally, a Guelph Mercury Tribune story posted an example of price gouging at a Stone Road Mall store where a customer bought a 100 mL bottle of Zytec hand sanitizer for nearly twice the price the item is sold on the store’s website. Premier Ford even tweeted the story in a now deleted post.
Under the new protections issued Saturday, hand sanitizer is among the items now protected from price gouging. Masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment, as well as non-prescription meds, disinfection cleaning supplies, and personal hygiene products like soap and paper products are also protected.
“As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to evolve provincially and globally, we are seeing a shortage of necessary goods available to the public, such as hand sanitizers and household cleaners,” added Lisa Thompson, Minister of Government and Consumer Services. “We will not tolerate those taking advantage of these difficult times to charge unfair and unreasonable prices. It is not right and our government is taking swift and decisive action to put an end to it with extremely stiff penalties.”
If consumers see what they think is an example of price gouging, they’re encouraged to call the government’s hotline at 1-800-889-9768, Monday to Friday from 8:30 am to 5 pm. You can also file a complaint online here.
Late Saturday night, the Provincial government made the move to further dissuade the gathering of large groups by capping them at five. Although the emergency order originally warned against gatherings of more than 50, the new advice comes from the same source, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
“If we are going to stop the spread of COVID-19 now and keep our communities safe, we need to take extraordinary measures to ensure physical distancing,” said Ford in a statement. “I strongly encourage everyone to do the responsible thing and stay home unless absolutely necessary. I can assure everyone that we will do everything in our power to stop this virus in its tracks.”
The new order won’t apply with households of more than five people, and it also doesn’t apply to childcare centres supporting healthcare workers and first responders so long as those centres don’t have more than 50 people. Also, funerals will only be able to proceed with a maximum of 10 people.
“We are acting on the best advice of our Chief Medical Officer of Health and other leading public health officials across the province,” added Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “These are extraordinary times that demand extraordinary measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect our people. Nothing is more important.”