B.C. grocery store hires security guard as anti-mask hostility grows

A shopper at the Kootenay Co-op store in Nelson, B.C., refused to keep his mask on while shopping on Tuesday and was eventually confronted by the store manager and security guard and asked to leave.

A grocery store in the Kootenays has hired a security guard for the first time since they opened their doors 45 years ago, but it’s not due to an increase in shoplifting.

Since B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry ordered masks to be worn in all indoor public spaces last week, staff at the Kootenay Co-op in Nelson said they have seen an uptick in people refusing to wear a mask and becoming combative when told to do so.

The Co-op made masks mandatory for staff back in June in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19, but they left it up to customers to decide whether they wanted to wear one.

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“When we made masks mandatory back then, we started to hear from a very vocal group of our membership and customers who were very frustrated about that,” general manager Ari Derfel told Global News.

Many people have expressed their opposition in kind and constructive ways, he added, but others have been confrontational and aggressive.

“Calling staff and management names like Nazis, fascists and equating what we’re doing to horrible human rights atrocities,” he said.

When the provincial order on mandatory masks was announced last week, Derfel said they had to stop people from coming into the store if they refused to wear a mask while shopping.

“As soon as it became mandatory, a number of people started again to become extra loud, extra vocal, extra aggressive, oftentimes harassing our cashiers, harassing our greeters at the front of the store, trying to force their way into the store when we asked them to wear a mask and sometimes just acting in threatening and aggressive ways.”

He said some staff members were brought to tears by aggressive customers.

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Peter Vella, a greeter at the Co-op, told Global News many customers tell him their rights are being violated and challenge him on the science behind whether masks work.

“I’ve had people right in my face and now that we do have another person here acting as a security guard — an actual security guard — I’ve leaned upon them for a bit of help,” he said.

When Global News was filming Tuesday inside the store, a man was refusing to wear his mask and was eventually escorted outside.

Drefel said he recognizes that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but that they are not entitled to take it out on their staff or be abusive.

“I really wish that they would get that and choose to be more thoughtful and kind, regardless of their respective opinions,” he said.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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