Treat Cinemas Fairly: BC Restaurants and Bars Are Open, Why Aren't Cinemas?

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Attention: Honourable Minister Adrian Dix and Dr. Bonnie Henry,

Without question, we fully appreciate the difficult job you have deciding which sectors and businesses may operate during this challenging time, and we understand that public safety is paramount. As such, we strictly enforce rigid COVID-19 safety protocols at the Rio Theatre. With safety as your main priority, we are concerned that your recent order to close down movie theatres is not supported by the research or data that clearly indicate there are no known COVID-19 outbreaks or transmissions at Canadian cinemas. In fact, extensive studies have found that not a single outbreak of COVID-19 anywhere across the globe can be traced to a cinema, multiplex or public screening venue.

We feel that movie theatres and screenings have been mis-categorized by your administration as "events," instead of as a business operating within the hospitality or food and beverage industry.

Mis-categorizing screenings as "events" (as stated on the BC Provincial website) unfairly and disproportionately targets our industry, and shows a lack of understanding of how we operate. Films are very different from community gatherings or ceremonial events such as weddings, or other similarly organized gatherings at churches or temples - our patrons do not congregate or socialize in large groups. Rather, guests attend a film as either solo individuals, or safely distanced in small pods - much the same way they do at a restaurant. Movie theatres should be treated in a similar manner as restaurants, pubs and bars, which are allowed to operate under the current restrictions. In fact, the Rio Theatre operates under both a Limited Service Food Establishment License and a Liquor Primary license - the same licensing as restaurants and bars.
 
The notable difference between patrons gathering in bars and restaurants vs. watching a film in a movie theatre is that our attendees are not socializing - there is no talking or walking around, and our guests are all facing the same direction while physically distanced, and stationary in their seats. Movie theatres are not dynamic, as the patrons' primary focus is to sit, silently, while enjoying a film - it is not to interact and engage with others. The primary appeal of sitting in a bar while either visiting with friends or watching sporting events on the TV is to interact with others, and socialize.

It goes without saying that there is much more space in a theatre than at a bar - especially at The Rio, a single screen venue featuring 40 ft high ceilings, excellent ventilation, and a seating capacity of 420. With only 50 customers maximum seated in this venue at any one time, there is ample room to spread out. We have much more room for people to keep a safe distance than any restaurant, bar or shopping mall, yet all of these very high-turnover sectors remain open, and are not subject to the 50-person capacity that theatres had been operating under. These inconsistent and incongruent restrictions have left those of us in the Arts and Culture sector feeling disproportionately targeted.

Since July 2, 2020 The Rio Theatre has been operating with the following changes to keep everyone safe:

- Masks are mandatory.
- A glass barrier has been installed between staff and customers.
- Only pods of 4 people are allowed to sit together, with a minimum of 6 ft. spacing between pods.
- The seats are sprayed down with hydrogen peroxide after each screening.
- Hand sanitizer stations available throughout the lobby.
- High-traffic surfaces are regularly sanitized.
- Most of our tickets are sold in advance.
- Customer info is always collected for contact tracing.
- Traffic patterns are controlled in the theatre, allowing people to get to their seats and exit while maintaining a safe distance.  

Unlike restaurants, bars, gyms or retail, a cinema can't simply close or reopen with no advance notice. We have to pay for film licensing, advance promotion, and process ticket purchases - all of which constitutes a net loss when screenings are cancelled. Given the extended order on December 7, we are extremely concerned about planning for a re-opening on January 8, as we fear that date could also get extended with little or no notice or industry consultation, forcing us to lose money and time once again.

The Rio Theatre is very important to the community of East Vancouver, and closures like this put the venue at risk of closing permanently. As you can imagine, it's very difficult to keep any theatre going and our staff employed under these circumstances. The community worked very hard to save the Rio in past campaigns, and we are asking to be treated with the same consideration and consultation afforded to restaurants and bars, as well as other sectors including retail and gyms. We can't afford to let reaction override the overwhelming evidence, data and research that proves theatres provide a safe environment.  

We implore you to reconsider your position in regards to movie theatres specifically, and allow us to continue to operate like the rest of the hospitality industry. Based on the past five months in BC, watching a movie in a theatre has proven itself to be a safe indoor activity providing a much needed escape for those looking to support their mental and emotional health during an extremely stressful period.

Theatres can operate safely and we must do more to save Arts and Culture. 

Thank you for your consideration,

Corinne Lea,

CEO, Rio Theatre