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Tents will be allowed again on Peel Street terrasses after Grand Prix weekend controversy: mayor

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Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante confirmed the terrasses on Peel Street that were abruptly shut down during Grand Prix weekend can reopen with tents.

However, no decision has been made so far on whether the restaurants will be compensated for lost business after having to kick people off their terrasses last Friday at around 9 p.m. one of the busiest nights of the year.

It's not an easy decision to make, Plante said, because there were fire code violations. 

"We're not closed to it, we're still looking at it," she told reporters on Thursday.

"We fully disagree on how things were done on Friday by the [fire inspectors] but at the same time there were some [violations] at some level so there were security issues but it could have been managed so differently. And we wouldn't be in that situation right now. We're not closed to it, but there's not an easy way to navigate through the compensation."

The mayor reached a deal with the Peel Street restaurant owners after meeting with the merchants to find a solution "while respecting fire safety standards, the highway code and the standards governing the major worksite to repair the century-old drinking water and sewer infrastructures on rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest," the city said in a news release.

Citing an unsafe distance between the tents and nearby buildings, Montreal fire department inspectors closed down multiple terrasses, forcing restaurants like Ferreira Café and Chez Alexandre to evacuate their outdoor seating spaces. Restaurants also received fines.

As a solution, the mayor said the city will move some parking spots on Peel Street so that the tents can be reinstalled "as soon as possible" and remain there all summer long. She said by removing the parking spaces, restaurants won't have to hire workers to redo their terrasses in order to "save time and costs." They will only have to put up the tents again.

She told reporters that fire prevention workers have important work to do but that she disagreed with the fire inspectors' "cavalier" behaviour by showing up on a busy Friday night and that they should have been more "respectful" in their approach.

"What happened on Friday was bad for the reputation of Montreal, we're not happy about it, it doesn't represent us, and we don't want this to happen again," Plante said, adding that there is room for improvement for the city to improve communication between the boroughs and the fire department.

Two fire department workers have been suspended with pay in the wake of the controversy, which Luc Rabouin, president of the city's executive committee, said was serious enough to trigger an internal investigation, which is ongoing.

The Plante administration faced a firestorm of criticism in the days following the closure, particularly after a social media video of a tearful Sandra Ferreira, owner of Ferreira Café, went viral. In the video on Instagram, she explained that she had assurances from city officials that her tent conformed with the fire code and thought it was "cruel" for inspectors to show up when the restaurant was packed.

Alain Creton, the head of the Peel Street Merchants' Association, said Thursday alongside Plante that he's never had issues in the past with terrasses and that he's confident the fiasco won't happen again. 

The opposition at City Hall wasn't as forgiving. Ensemble Montreal Leader Aref Salem, said in a written statement that, "It's too little too late."

"Montreal has already lost face! Our party reiterates its demand that the Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal and the borough of Ville-Marie be called before city council to provide explanations. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case," the statement reads.

Tourism minister 'very embarassed'

The city and race organizers are also facing criticism after stormy weather, large crowds and confusing messages during the Canadian Grand Prix events prompted Quebec's tourism minister to say she was "very embarrassed" for the city and the province.

Racing publications Pole-Position and motorsport.com said the issues included mud and flooding at the race site, fans being turned away from a practice session they were led to believe was cancelled, traffic headaches and fans breaching the track at the end of the race.

Organizers of the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix say there were "several challenges" during the 2024 race, and they are carrying out a post-mortem to ensure next year's event goes smoothly.

Plante said she met with Formula 1 President Stefano Domenicali last Sunday and another meeting is being held next week to hash out the problems during this year's event and to discuss "what needs to be improved in terms of mobility, construction sites, anything that can be improved" for the next race. 

With files from The Canadian Press

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