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Enraged man rips down displays at Brandon restaurant after being asked to wear mask logo 2020-08-25 Darren Bernhardt

An irate man swore at staff  and knocked down product displays in a Manitoba restaurant on Monday after being told he needed to wear a face mask.

"He said, 'We're not in an effing pandemic. You either serve me or you call 911," said Rayanne Henry, manager of the Brandon Freshii, in a strip mall at the corner of 18th Street and Park Avenue.

The man eventually left when Henry took his advice and called police, leaving a trail of chip bags, water bottles and other items strewn across the floor.

"He decide to rip off a piece of our wall, too," Henry said.

Monday was the first day of heightened restrictions in the southwestern part of the province, where COVID-19 cases have surged in the past two weeks.

"We kind of expected a few people to be a little upset about mandatory masks and we had a man come in and right off the bat, you could tell he was looking for a fight," said Henry.

She was in the back of the store when she overheard the commotion. A staff member asked the man to help himself to one of the free masks in a basket near the front of the store.

"All I heard was, 'No, not a chance. You don't want to go there with me,'" Henry said, quoting the angry customer.

She went to the counter and asked the man once again to please help himself to a free mask.

"He immediately started yelling profanities at us, screaming. He threatened he's going to blow us up all over the internet," Henry said.

"Then he stated he himself had a respiratory disease and I was completely dumbfounded. I told him we're in a pandemic and if you have a respiratory disease, you're the one that it's going to kill."

That's when the man said there was no pandemic and became vulgar and abusive, said Henry, who then told him he wouldn't be served, and asked him to leave as she called 911. 

"We won't be dealing with this kind of negativity here. We're just doing the best that we can to keep our community safe," she said.

"We couldn't ask any less."

The heightened restrictions in the Prairie Mountain Health region, which includes Brandon, mark the first widespread use of Manitoba's colour-coded pandemic response system, which was unveiled last week and allows the province to bring in rules that target specific regions, communities or industries.

The Prairie Mountain region has returned to measures that haven't been in place since the early months of the pandemic. As a result, face masks are mandatory in all public places and gathering sizes are capped at 10 people.

"Wearing a mask is such a selfless thing that you can do," said Henry, who can't understand why people react the way that customer did.

"You come into a restaurant with a sign saying masks are mandatory yet you disregard everything and then say that you have a respiratory disease? I just think it's so selfish."

4 COVID-related incidents

Sgt. Dave Andrew of the Brandon Police Service said the incident wasn't the only one on Monday.

A customer at another business in the city was asked to leave because they refused to wear a mask, he said. Police were also called, but not by the business. Rather, the person who refused the mask called to voice his unhappiness with the rules.

"The individual … was upset and just wanted to notify us that they were upset," Andrew said.

Two other COVID-related calls were reports from people who witnessed gatherings larger than 10.

"And we appreciate those tips and we attend those calls. Our priority right now is to try to educate the citizens of Brandon as best as we can to just reinforce the importance of everyone wearing masks to not only keep themselves safe but to keep the rest of our community safe as well," Andrew said.

No charges were laid in any of the four incidents. The staff and owners of Freshii were not interested in pursuing that one any further, either, Andrew said.

Henry, however, wanted to make the incident more widely known, so the public could see the things businesses are facing. And perhaps, to shame the customer a little.

"I figured, why not? This guy comes in, makes a fuss, ruins the front of the store and breaks a few things. There's no way this guy gets to get away with this," she said.

Within an hour, she was contacted to say the man is from Victoria, B.C., she said. Also, a neighbouring business had a surveillance camera that showed a B.C. plate on the man's car.

The vast majority of customers are understanding and polite, she said. If they don't have a mask, they'll help themselves to a free one.

"Nobody has said anything. Nothing. Just this one guy," Henry said.

"I'm completely shocked. I know that people are frustrated, I know it's trying times and that yeah, it sucks to wear a mask, but these are the guidelines to keep our people safe.

"I just I can't believe that somebody would go that far."

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