Toronto lawyer takes Monkey Tree Pub’s Covid-19 case

Sam's Monkey Tree Pub in Yellowknife
Sam's Monkey Tree Pub in Yellowknife. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

The owners of a Yellowknife pub fined for breaking Covid-19 public health regulations are fighting the ticket they received by joining national legal movement Fight the Fines.

The Monkey Tree Pub was issued a ticket totalling $5,175 for violation of Covid-19 indoor capacity limits on a Saturday night in November last year.

The owners of the Range Lake Road pub have always disputed the fine. On Tuesday, a Toronto-based lawyer appeared for the pub by phone during the case’s latest Territorial Court scheduling appearance.

Joshua Halpern, who said he had just taken on the case, asked for an adjournment until early May.



“I can give you until May 4, if that works … and that will be for a plea,” said Chief Judge Robert Gorin.

“One thing I would add is I would have a conflict in dealing with this matter in any substantive fashion, so if that could please be noted on the file,” Gorin continued.

“It’s not because I’m a regular patron of the Monkey Tree, I want to make that clear.”

Halpern is one of a group of lawyers in the Fight the Fines movement organized by Toronto-based Rebel News.



“Every single day we’re hearing stories of law-abiding citizens – families, really – who are being ticketed and fined by overzealous police and bylaw officers for simply doing what the prime minister is doing,” states the Rebel News website, which asks for donations to fund the project.

Halpern did not immediately return a Tuesday afternoon call from Cabin Radio.

Earlier, he told NNSL: “It is my understanding that it was the manager of liquor enforcement who reported my client to the police and stated that ‘it was very concerning seeing the amount of people standing shoulder to shoulder without worry of the current pandemic.’”

Halpern told NNSL he characterizes the Monkey Tree’s ticket as an overreaction.

Halpern is also representing a Surrey, BC street preacher said by Rebel News to have been arrested by Vancouver police. He is listed on the Rebel News website as representing a woman who refused to quarantine after arriving at Vancouver International Airport or take another Covid-19 test, as she had recently had one.

Monkey Tree Pub co-owner Jennifer Vornbrock did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Breaking rules ‘jeopardizes openness’

The pub’s hearing regarding its ticket was scheduled for March 2 but adjourned to Tuesday morning.

As Cabin Radio first reported in early January, the pub is the first NWT business to be charged by the territory’s enforcement team. The ticket issued to the Monkey Tree was for “failure to comply with Emerging Wisely phase two requirements under the public health order in the North Slave region,” a GNWT spokesperson said by email at the time.



Phase two of the NWT’s pandemic recovery plan, dubbed Emerging Wisely, has been active since June 12, 2020. It states that restaurants and bars must operate with no more than 25 customers indoors, no more than 50 people in outdoor dining areas and patios, physical distancing of at least two metres among people from different households, and no dance floors or live music. Alterations to those rules can be granted on a case-by-case basis.

The Monkey Tree is understood to have received an amendment allowing a maximum capacity of 125 people.

In late January, NWT Chamber of Commerce president Jenni Bruce defended the Monkey Tree in its ongoing dispute. Bruce called on Premier Caroline Cochrane to investigate the pub’s complaints about the inspector said to have attended on the night in question and produce a public report.

Bruce said the GNWT’s treatment of the Monkey Tree was “extremely troubling for the business community.”

In response, Premier Cochrane told Cabin Radio businesses must comply with public health orders. Failure to do so, she said, “jeopardizes the relative openness of our economy as an outbreak could result in the need for stricter measures.”