It isn’t much comfort to many business owners in Manitoba’s north, who are still prevented from offering in-person service due to public health orders related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but the fact that the provincial government eliminated restrictions on Sunday shopping hours in the final month of 2020 is a good thing for the future.
Sure there are those who argue that people don’t need to go shopping every day, but outright closures of stores and other businesses on Sundays have been history for quite some time now and never made much sense to begin with when they were still in effect. You could buy gas or grocery items from within a gas station but not from within grocery stores. Restaurants could be open but you couldn’t go buy yourself things to make food. Even once the laws were modernized to allow Sunday shopping from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Manitoba was behind the times, with people in other Canadian provinces having had the ability to shop until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. or maybe even midnight for decades. Around the world, many countries with more vibrant small business cultures than Canada have far fewer restrictions than we do. You may not feel like getting your hair cut or shopping for new clothes at 1 a.m. (during normal, non-pandemic times when such activities are allowed anyways) or going to a bar that is open until 6 a.m. but there are certainly people who do and places where such activities are not unusual at all.
As Coun. Jeff Fountain pointed out at the Jan. 18 meeting when Thompson city council approved first reading of a bylaw to repeal its Sunday shopping bylaw, which no longer has any power, restrictions on what could be open and when on the last day of the weekend or first day of the week, depending on your perspective, were based on the idea that being a Christian was the norm and that you would be attending church and resting as your God said you should. Even then, this was a flawed assumption that overlooked the existence of Jews or Muslims, who have different Sabbath days, and of many other religions and of people don’t practise any religion at all. It isn’t fair to expect someone from a different religion to work on their Sabbath day and then rest on the Christian one.
More than any other reason, however, the best argument for allowing stores to set their own hours is that Canada is supposed to be a free country and that, when limits are placed upon those freedoms good reason should be shown for doing so. Wanting to keep a virus that no one has natural immunity to from spreading and creating unnecessary pressure on hospitals? That’ a pretty good reason. Doing so because a book written many centuries ago says there’s an all-powerful being who has decreed that a particular day should be reserved for resting? Not so much, especially when there were all sorts of businesses beside retail stores that were allowed to operate on Sundays regardless.
Council has it in their power to create a new bylaw limiting the hours that stores in the city can be open on Sunday, but probably shouldn’t. When months of stores and other businesses that want to be open having to stay closed come to an end at some unknown point in the future, they should be allowed to operate as many hours of the day as they want, regardless of what the calendar says.