Ontario online list of vaxxed businesses forced to shut over backlash

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After just a few days, a growing online list of Ontario businesses that had vaccination policies and promoted the vaccination of their staff has shut down because some of those businesses faced reprisals.

“Whenever I add a new business, there is a group of people (a small minority), who attack those businesses by leaving fake Google reviews, making false bookings at their restaurants, and sending hateful messages to them,” the person behind the list at safetodo.ca said on Twitter on Tuesday night.

“I cannot, therefore, in good conscience continue to add businesses to the website, because I cannot be certain that they will not be attacked by the same people,” the person continued, explaining why he took down the list, which was called SafeTO-Do.

“This was truly unexpected,” he continued. “I started this website less than a week ago, and it was intended to be apolitical and to provide a resource for those who had lower risk tolerances and/or medical conditions that made COVID high risk for them.”

News reports identified the creator of the list as Brandon Mattalo, a Toronto lawyer who himself was looking for a gym that required vaccinations. Last week, GoodLife Fitness, the largest health club company in Canada, tweeted that it would not require staff or members to be vaccinated and that it would disclose information about the vaccination status of staff.

The list at safetodo.ca named more than 30 restaurants, breweries, gyms, dance centres, retailers and other businesses, mostly in Toronto, but also in Ottawa, Waterloo, Thunder Bay, London, Timmins and Guelph. It relied on businesses and customers to tweet suggestions to the website’s Twitter account.

Marlene Haley, owner of the Merry Dairy in Hintonburg, said Wednesday that her ice cream shop made the online list after a customer or someone else submitted its name.

On Twitter earlier this week, a customer did write that the store’s staff wore masks and were fully vaccinated. Haley’s business received both praise and criticism, in very small amounts, on Twitter as a result of being listed.

Haley said the shutdown of the list showed that no one was immune from online threats.

“Closing the website looked like it was his only recourse,” Haley said. “However, if customers want to know which businesses are doing what, they will take the time to find out, one way or another.”

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