CONSUMERISM

The debate about shopping on Sundays

MALCOLM GRAY January 11 1988
CONSUMERISM

The debate about shopping on Sundays

MALCOLM GRAY January 11 1988

The debate about shopping on Sundays

CONSUMERISM

On Sunday when I wanted to take a box ofChoclate pepruments to Hadley in the hospital I had to buy them from the bootleggers. The Drug Stores cannot sell candy on Sunday.

Ernest Hemingway.

Restrictions on Sunday shopping have loosened dramatically since 1923, when Hemingway complained about Toronto’s closing laws and the illicit, misspelled gifts for his wife in a letter that he wrote to U.S. poet Ezra Pound. Now, a vast array of goods and services—ranging from milk, gasoline and cigarettes to tickets for commercial sporting and entertainment events—is widely available in cities across Canada. But the often-confusing and inconsistent mixture of provincial legislation and municipal bylaws that still governs Sunday closures has provoked bitter debates among those fighting for a commercefree day of rest—shoppers and merchants.

Still, Sunday shopping proponents in Ontario and Saskatchewan gained two significant victories recently. In those jurisdictions — where general bans against Sunday shopping have been tempered by a growing number of exceptions to the rule—provincial government spokesmen announced that they are considering transferring all responsibility for regulating Sunday shopping to municipalities in 1988.

The two provinces are following a legislative precedent that began in Western Canada. In Alberta, wide-open Sundays have been a feature of life in such major urban centres as Calgary and Edmonton since the province’s municipalities assumed control over Sunday shopping in 1983. Similarly, 56 of the 145 municipalities in British Columbia have permitted department stores and other retail operations to open on Sundays since the provincial government granted them that power in 1980. For its part, after studying the British Columbia and Alberta

laws, New Brunswick included a clause in its Days of Rest Act in 1985 that allows municipalities to make their own bylaws and permit unlimited Sunday shopping. Since then St. Andrews and St. Stephen, southwestern communities near the U.S. border that are heavily dependent on the tourist trade from neighboring Maine, have chosen to allow wide-open Sundays. Although Sunday closing laws are still in effect in New-

foundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Manitoba, those provinces now allow exemptions, which indicates a move in the same direction.

Still, many religious leaders and union representatives across Canada say that they will continue to oppose wide-open Sundays—in part, they argue, because the practice is a backward step for workers and their families. Declared Anglican Archbishop of Toronto Lewis Garnsworthy: “It would take away from the family a pause day, a day of rest. For a great many families, this is their only day together.” And in

Regina, Len Wallace, a spokesman for the 5,000-member Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which opposes any change in the current closure law, said that there was no pressing need for week-round shopping in that city. “This isn’t Hamilton,” Wallace said, referring to the Ontario steelmaking centre, “where you have thousands of people on shift work who require the extra shopping hours.”

For his part, Ontario’s interim Conservative party leader, Andy Brandt, predicted that easing Ontario’s closure laws — which essentially restrict Sunday openings to convenience stores, bookstores, antique shops and stores located in areas designated by local municipalities as tourist attractions—would cause a domino effect of open stores across the province. Declared Brandt: “I would doubt that other than in very rural areas there will be any municipalities that won’t end up with Sunday openings.” On Sunday, Dec. 27, Ontario consumers enjoyed a taste of that seemingly inevitable turn of events. The province’s Retail Business Holidays Act was still in effect. But because Boxing g Day—an illegal shopping ^ day—fell on a Saturday, I merchants were able to 5 take advantage of a little| known section of the act I that permitted stores with less than 5,000 square feet and fewer than seven employees to open on Sunday, if they closed on Saturday. Some larger retailers, such as Eaton’s department stores, remained closed in accordance with the letter of the law, but most merchants—including many whose stores exceeded the space limitations—threw open their doors to crowds of eager shoppers. And although many of those shoppers maintained that they still disapproved of Sunday shopping in principle, it was clear that they relished it in practice.

—MALCOLM GRAY in Toronto with correspondents’ reports