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Nunavut Tim Hortons’ decrepit bathrooms finally getting a makeover

nunatsiaqonline.ca by Lisa Gregoire, Nov. 10, 2017

Disrepair, uncleanliness cited by Iqaluit health inspectors eight months ago

Tim Hortons coffee might be “always fresh,” but until this week, that couldn’t be said for their bathrooms.

The restrooms at the popular coffee-and-doughnut spot attached to Iqaluit’s Northmart have been deteriorating for months with holes in the flooring, inoperable toilets, doors that don’t lock and stained walls scrawled with profane graffiti.

The Government of Nunavut’s environmental health inspectors noted in reports as early as this past March that the bathrooms needed to be “thoroughly cleaned” on a regular basis, and ordered “repairs/replacement for the floors and walls, as discussed.”

Environmental health inspectors did several re-inspections to ensure the cleaning was done.

According to those reports, Northmart, which owns the franchise, told inspectors that “public washrooms are to be totally renovated in the coming year.”

Nunatsiaq News made inquiries this week and received a brief email from Derek Reimer, director of business development at North West Co.’s head office in Winnipeg.

“We are addressing the concerns you have raised and apologize to our customers for the condition of the washroom facilities in Iqaluit. Renovation plans were already underway prior to your inquiry,” Reimer wrote Nov. 7.

“We thank our customers for their patience as we work to resolve the situation.”

Two days later, on Nov. 9, it appears those renovations have begun.

Northmart also received a written letter from an environmental health officer on July 5, 2017, citing contraventions to Public Health Act regulations which require that equipment is kept in a “clean and sanitary condition.” 

The inspector noted problems with the cleanliness of sinks, countertops, floors and freezers and added that floors and other surfaces that had deteriorated cannot be cleaned properly and, as a result, can accumulate food particles and lead to microbial growth.

Greg Thibault, a veteran environmental health officer with the Nunavut’s health department, said this week that under the Public Health Act, officers are tasked with checking everything, including restrooms, when they inspect restaurants in Iqaluit and other communities.

But health inspectors are foremost concerned with aspects of a restaurant that pose a health risk if not done properly, such as food handling and temperature control.

Dishwashing, food storage and restrooms—so-called “support operations”—are the second priority, he said.

“Most of our focus is going to be on those items that have the highest risk or highest possibility of making somebody sick,” Thibault said.

“Very often if we see infractions, if they’re deemed to be serious or a problem, or sometimes … there may be an indication that something in the operation has changed, that’s when we’ll kick in a re-inspection.”

Inspectors use a series of remedies to fix problems from ordering food to be immediately discarded to issuing public health citations and work orders. Generally speaking, restaurant owners comply with those orders as swiftly as they can, given local contractor capacity and sealift schedules, he said. 

Because restaurant operations in Iqaluit might only be checked two to four times per year, inspectors have to look at the inspection history to see if there’s a pattern of behaviour.

“We’ll give them a time, based on the risk involved. So in terms of the bathrooms, we’ll say, ‘OK, these are really bad, we’re going to come by and do an inspection somewhere in the next two weeks,’” Thibault said.

Right now, Nunavut is governed by an aging Public Health Act whose regulations are in the process of being upgraded, Thibault said. 

But even after it’s amended and modernized, the legislation will likely still contain ambiguous language to describe the desired state of facilities, such as “clean and sanitary,” “in good repair,” and “in proper maintenance.”

In other words, some things are black and white when it comes to an environmental inspection and some things are open to interpretation.

The Iqaluit Northmart Tim Hortons, which serves a brisk take-out clientele, is also a hang-out for youth and for homeless people who sometimes use it as a place to rest or warm up during the colder months.

Thibault said Northmart was considering instituting a locked-door policy where only paying customers would be permitted to borrow the key to unlock the doors, once the restroom renovations are completed.

We asked Reimer to confirm this, and estimate how long it would take to renovate the washrooms, but he did not respond to our inquiries by our publication time.

We contacted Tim Hortons’ media relations to find out if there is a certain standard of care and maintenance that franchise owners must uphold. They did not respond to our request for information.

Thibault encouraged members of the public to speak to a manager or supervisor if they ever notice unsanitary or potentially unsafe conditions at restaurants and food vendors in their community.

If complainants are unsatisfied with the response they get, they should contact Nunavut environmental health. 

Since public service email addresses can become out of date, he encouraged people to pick up the phone. Numbers are available at the GN’s environmental health branch here:
https://www.gov.nu.ca/health/information/environmental-health