Late Friday afternoon, a Toronto Superior Court judge granted an injunction ordering Adam Skelly and employees of his restaurant, Adamson Barbecue, to comply with the Reopening Ontario Act or potentially face contempt of court charges.
As lockdown started, Skelly served diners in his Etobicoke location in defiance of an indoor dining ban intended to reduce COVID-19 spread. (Like other eateries, Adamson could still offer takeout and delivery service.)
During a two-day standoff with police that saw the restaurant shut and locks changed, Skelly made claims about the virus not backed by public health facts. Last Thursday, after allegedly breaking into the restaurant, he was arrested and led past angry supporters.
Skelly, 33, faces provincial and criminal charges, including one count of attempting to obstruct police, one charge of failing to leave when directed, one count of mischief and failure to comply with the Reopening Act.
At a virtual hearing Friday, the Crown asked Justice Jessica Kimmel to order Skelly to comply with the act after his reopening of Adamson Barbecue last month. As part of his bail conditions on criminal charges, Skelly is prevented from returning to the eatery.
The judge’s decision increases the potential penalties Skelly would face if found in contempt. The judge reserved releasing her reasons for her decision.
Skelly’s lawyer, Geoff Pollock, said late Friday evening it’s “likely” his client will challenge the ruling, but they need more time to conduct research before deciding. The judge set a deadline of Dec. 29.
During arguments Friday, Pollock told court the Reopening Ontario Act is the perhaps most far reaching statute “we have seen in Ontario in our lifetime, in terms of its intrusiveness in personal lives and the economy, not to mention the restrictions upon liberty.”
He reiterated Friday night what he said in court earlier in the day.
“Is my client engaged in civil obedience? My client was very open about what he was doing, he was seeking the ability to challenge the law and we have a long and noble history in this country of civil disobedience, and this is how laws are challenged.”
The defence fund set up to defend Skelly had, by Friday, seen more than $320,000 in pledges, quickly closing in on a goal now set at $350,000.
Most identifiable donors to a wildly successful online fundraiser to the legal fund for a controversial Toronto restaurateur don’t live in Toronto — and some aren’t even in Canada.
As of Friday evening, there were more than 6,000 donations to the GoFundMe account in support of Adam Skelly, and, while many were from anonymous donors, the vast majority of identifiable ones were not from Toronto. Money poured in from Alberta, B.C., and other parts of Canada, as well as the U.S. The fund itself was started by a former conservative political organizer who doesn’t know Skelly.
Charges against the owner of Adamson Barbecue have struck a chord, even if some reasons cited on the GoFundMe page by donors, including globalism, mask rules, totalitarianism, 5G wireless networks and more, don’t apply to the facts of Skelly’s case.
Barry McNamar launched the fund. As head of a conservative political action group, McNamar once made headlines trying to bring Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, to speak in Alberta.
“In most cases politicians don’t understand the advice they’re being given and so we get this mish-mash of conflicting policy responses that serve no real purpose other than to prolong the crisis and hurt everyday Canadians,” McNamar wrote in response to questions about why he started the fund.
“Why? Because small business and the everyday worker can’t afford the expensive lobbyists that the big-box stores can,” McNamar said, referring to Ontario’s lockdown order that lets some Toronto big-box stores remain open.
The number of Alberta and B.C. donors might reflect the fact that some of them know him, said McNamar, who moves between the two provinces.
Donors reached by the Star cited the anguish of small businesspeople facing possible ruin. Skelly told the Star he had to open his new Etobicoke location without a licence because of a lack of financing and “tight cash flow.”
The Leaside location of his restaurant is owned by a company that links back to names that match those of his parents, who once owned a plumbing business.
Some donors, like Skelly, question mainstream media reporting on the pandemic.
“He stood up for small businesses, not just in Ontario but all across Canada,” said Kimberley Preeper, owner of D&S Electric in Williams Lake, B.C., who donated $500 to the GoFundMe.
“When you see stuff like that going on in Ontario, the restrictions, it’s just a matter of time before it hits us in the West,” Preeper said, adding that some homeowners in her community are afraid to have her electrical contractors in their homes.
“I’m not going to argue whether COVID is real or if masks work,” Preeper said, adding “at some point everybody has to stop and look at the information, are (restrictions) actually stopping the spread, are hospitals as overwhelmed as the major media outlets are showing?”
While Canadians cities haven’t seen the kind of overwhelmed hospitals seen in parts of the U.S. and Europe, public health officials say the risk here is real if COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly, hence the need for a Toronto lockdown.
Veronika Kubik said she gave $10 to the Skelly fund to show support for small businesses facing potential ruin, even with federal and provincial aid programs.
“I find (the restrictions) cruel and unusual for these small businesses,” said Kubik, who recently moved to B.C. from Toronto. “I spoke to a Toronto restaurateur, a well-known one, who was crying on the phone, terrified about what will happen to her and her family.”
Some Toronto eateries, however, oppose Skelly’s revolt, calling it reckless.
Many legal fee donors see in the temporary closure of a dining room, on the advice of public health officials, advancing tyranny and the threat of communist-style oppression.
Paul Fromm, a far-right self-declared “white nationalist” who attended the protest outside Adamson Barbecue, wrote on the fundraising page that his $50 donation will help fight “Medico-Stalinist tyranny.”
Some people don’t think GoFundMe should be hosting the Skelly fund at all.
A change.org petition, “Stop The GoFundMe for Adamson BBQ,” argues that Skelly is “putting the lives of others at risk and selfishly breaking the law in order to gain fame and attention.”
The fundraiser for Skelly “is not right and I am asking GoFundMe to reevaluate what it’s platform should and should not be used for and to remove this so called ‘fundraiser’ immediately,” wrote Lindsay Fraser, whose petition had more than 12,600 signatures on Friday.
But it’s too late. GoFundMe donations pledged so far are in the trust account of Pollock, who confirmed the transfer Friday.
Pollock, Skelly’s long-time counsel who is not representing him on criminal matters, said “Mr. Skelly has engaged in civil disobedience which has a long and noble tradition in our country and our society.
“He’s challenging a law that he believes is unconstitutional and I think there are a lot of people who feel their voices are not being heard. He feels passionate about the issues, as do many of the people so generously supporting his legal defence.”
With files from Betsy Powell
David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider