COVID-19: Ontarians push back against companies denying them access to ‘non-essential’ goods

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Ontario residents are pushing back against big box and discount stores cutting off access to in-store items the province has deemed ‘non-essential’ as part of the the new COVID-19 stay-at-home measures.

They argue that many of those items are essential, especially for low-income households who can’t afford to buy supplies online or at pricier retailers.

“There are a lot of things people think are everyday essentials that are roped off and I think that’s a mistake that the government overlooked,” said Sarah Colero, a person whose income relies on the Ontario Disability Support Program.

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Colero, who uses the pronouns they and them, claimed the ODSP only provides them with just under $1,200 a month and said they depend on stores like Dollarama to get their supplies.

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They also claimed Dollarama has closed off access to aisles with many supplies they need and can’t afford to purchase elsewhere.

“Cleaning supplies, menstrual products, paper towels, tissues, tin foil,” Colero told Global News. “I love Dollarama because everything there is a good price and that’s really what we need, because on ODSP, we have to budget so carefully.”

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Dollaramas across Toronto have signs outside stores listing items that the province had deemed ‘non-essential’ and it could no longer sell in-store, including supplies related to school, office, kitchen, hair accessories and closet and bathroom.

Dollarama also doesn’t allow for curbside pickup.

Ulisse Aiello is a caregiver to his brother with autism and said he desperately needs art supplies to keep his sibling occupied.

“He has the mentality of a five-year-old so you have to do a lot of things with him to keep him busy,” Aiello said.

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Aiello adds that, with their budget, he can only afford art supplies at places like Dollarama and Walmart.

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“It’s not fair that you’re closing down sections of a store that are absolutely essential to many people,” he said.

Meanwhile, many others took to Twitter to criticize Walmart for closing off areas of their stores, including some who claimed they were denied access to child supplies and diapers.

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Dr. Andrew Boozary suggests the government should be more flexible when it comes to what is deemed ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential,’ especially to those in marginalized and low-incomes communities.

“It’s a really tough line to draw between what is essential and non-essential,” said Boozary.

“We just have to listen to the community in things that they need, things that are essential through this stretch — because we really need to know that there’s that solidarity as to which kind of neighbourhoods are at risk and which neighbourhoods are going to have the least access to support and help.”

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In response to Global News’ request for a statement, Ontario’s ministry of health said the rules only allow big box and discount stores to sell certain items.

“These categories are limited to: grocery items, pet care supplies, household cleaning supplies, pharmaceutical items, health care items and personal care items,” said ministry of health spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene.

“Given the vast number of types of items that big box/discount retailers sell, the prescribed categories ensure that retailers have the flexibility needed to categorize all items sold.

“Should a big box/discount store wish to sell other items, they must comply with any applicable conditions that other retailers that sell those items comply with.”

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Meanwhile, a Dollarama spokesperson told Global News in a statement: “We are committed to maintaining this essential role while also adhering to evolving government orders in the face of a persistent virus.

“We moved quickly (Wednesday) following the announcement of new emergency measures effective (Thursday), and we sincerely thank all our customers for their patience and understanding in what continue to be extremely difficult circumstances for Canadians from all walks of life.”

“We thank our customers for their patience and understanding as we implement the new guidelines,” said Walmart Canada media relations representative, Adam Grachnik.

“In this case, diapers are permitted for sale in our stores.”





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