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Owner of Rio Theatre says B.C. restaurant industry gets special treatment under COVID-19

Last Updated Jan 12, 2021 at 9:16 pm PST

Rio Theatre sign (CityNews)

Since Vancouver's Rio theatre was shut down last month its owner has been fighting for it to reopen

Corinne Lea says she's frustrated the restaurant association meets regularly with Dr. Bonnie Henry

Lea says theatres are safe -- people sit far apart and no one talks

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The owner of Vancouver’s Rio Theatre says the restaurant industry is getting special treatment and the arts industry is feeling undervalued.

Corinne Lea has been trying to get in touch with the province since cinemas were shut down across the province under COVID restrictions — and even the months before that. Despite close to 7,000 signatures on a petition to reopen, they’ve heard nothing.

On Monday, Lea says she tuned into the provincial COVID-19 update where she heard B.C.’s top doctor, Dr. Bonnie Henry, say health officials were having ongoing conversations and meetings with the Restaurant Association.

RELATED: B.C. restaurants want assurances province is done with last-minute restrictions

But Lea says she’s been told the province is behind emails from two to three months ago, and she has yet to hear from anyone.

“It seems that the restaurant association is getting excessive consultation — like they’re the favourite child. Meanwhile, arts venues are being completely ignored.”

“We don’t need to go for lunch every week with Bonnie Henry. We would just like at least one consultation. We just want them to hear us out, because we are certain that we can operate safely, just like restaurants and bars. In fact, we believe we are safer than most restaurants and bars.”

Lea argues the Rio followed all safety protocols when it was open last year from July to December.

There have been no COVID-19 outbreaks at any theatre in Canada, but theatres have been categorized as ‘events and gatherings’ which are not allowed to operate.

Lea also takes issue with the argument that restaurants and bars are ‘essential services.’

“We all know they can do take-out. You don’t have to a restaurant, it’s not essential. So when they try to say that art isn’t essential, the thing is that if bars and restaurants are open, we should be open too.,” she says.

“We made all the changes, we did all the safety procedures, we were successful and then we just get punished. We just get ignored and shut down and I just can’t take it anymore.”

The province recently extended the ban on social gatherings to Feb. 5, but Lea says she has little faith they will be able to reopen early next month.

“If they could give us some kind of solid assurance that we could reopen at that time, I would feel a lot better. But thinking that this could go on and on for months, it’s terrifying, it’s very hard on me, my staff and everyone in the arts world — emotionally, psychologically.”

Lea says she is doing everything she can to ensure the iconic theatre remains open, but she says “The Rio cannot survive another two to three months of this. We need a consultation. Now.”