When Ontario eased some of its pandemic restrictions this summer and Mark Evans was allowed to reopen his east Toronto business, he says the last thing he expected was the city to hound him for unpaid parking fees.
Evans said Horizon Martial Arts has been open a total of three months since the pandemic began in March 2020 because of the provincial shutdowns to control the spread of COVID-19 that particularly impacted Toronto gyms.
He didn't pay the city's $3,000 fee over the course of the pandemic for three commercial spots outside the studio because he said for the vast majority of the time nobody associated with his business was using them. He also didn't know if he'd be able to survive financially.
"That was a pretty scary time," he said. "I didn't know if I was going to make it out. Nobody really knew what was going to happen."
When Horizon Marital Arts opened its doors again in July, the city began calling and sending emails, urging Evans to pay up, he said.
"The city's coming after me to put money in their coffers at a time when I'm just trying to bounce back and upgrade my place," he said. "I can guarantee I need the money more."
The $3,000 would be better spent upgrading the ventilation system in time for winter, said Evans.
He said he's offered to pay for the couple of months he's been open, but has been told that's not an option.
The City of Toronto told CBC News that staff have been in contact with Evans and offered him a flexible payment plan, but he turned it down. The city said it's "legislatively required" to collect fees associated with the commercial off-street boulevard parking spots, and would need city council to approve waiving, suspending or altering them.
'A tough pill to swallow'
The recovery for Ontario businesses has just begun and government supports need to continue, said Ryan Mallough, a senior director at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
The advocacy group's data shows one in three businesses across the province are back to pre-pandemic revenue levels for this time of year, compared to less than one in four in Toronto.
"The city's facing a tougher uphill battle that's unique," Mallough said.
Businesses in the downtown core, for example, are reliant on the office worker lunch rush or sports events, both of which are not back in full force, he said. Meanwhile some sectors like gyms had been closed over 400 days since the pandemic began and are only just reestablishing themselves.
They would benefit from the city waiving fees associated with parking and licences, he said.
"If you've been shut down for the vast majority of the last 18 months, it's a really tough pill to swallow when the city is asking you to pay for something you never used," said Mallough.
"It may not seem like a huge sum of money, but right now, every little bit really does count."
Evans said he's probably going to pay the parking fee, so it's not hanging over his head. But it's left a bad taste in his mouth.
"I'm not getting anything in return other than, 'Pay your bill,' with zero empathy or sympathy involved," he said.
"There's just zero understanding of what certain businesses are going through at this time."