Jesse Johnston, the owner of Without Papers Pizza, saw his business taken from him by the government during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the fall of 2021, his operating licenses were stripped off his restaurant's wall after former Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi introduced the vaccine passport bylaw, forcing restaurants to demand proof of Covid-19 vaccination from all their patrons.
Even though it was illegal for anyone in Calgary not fully up-to-date with their Covid-19 shots to dine at a restaurant, these weren’t orders Jesse could simply comply with. He refused to discriminate on such arbitrary grounds and be prevented the ability to treat people as equals in his own restaurant. The weight of discriminating against his fellow Canadians on such arbitrary grounds led him to close his doors soon after and proceed to exclusively provide pizza free of charge without peoples' rights to medical privacy being invaded.
These pizza giveaways took place just outside his restaurant doors, but quickly the free pizza turned into something much greater, and hundreds — if not thousands — of supporters attended the sidewalk and parking lot near Without Papers Pizza. In many ways, the political rhetoric and enforcement had taken a toll on mental health across the nation, and Calgary was no exception.
For those who had been denied access to social activities like simply eating at a restaurant, this was a desperately needed reprieve providing conversations and openness. After giving free pizza to those who gathered or passed alongside the sidewalk, and having authorities seize benches and milk crates, Without Papers Pizza was officially shut down. Under the cover of night, police evicted Jesse and his remaining staff from the restaurant, bringing an end to the free flow of pizza.
Protests continued for months on end, through the winter and into early 2022, at times even occurring daily. Jesse fought loudly to have the City of Calgary rescind the vaccine passport bylaw, and in total suffered multiple tickets amounting to over $10,000, multiple warrants for his arrest, and was stripped of his business license for violating the vaccine passport bylaw. He was consequently stripped of his liquor license and food handling permits, and the dream restaurant he built for years on end.
Recently, The Democracy Fund, a civil liberties charity aimed at fighting for the constitutional rights of Canadians, retained Williamson Law to defend Without Papers Pizza from these charges. Chad Williamson of Williamson Law joined us to discuss this case, which is expected to see trial in November this year.
Calgary’s vaccine passport bylaw was rescinded on February 8, 2022, five months after its introduction. But the damage done to Without Papers Pizza remains to this day. If you want to help his legal fight, donate to The Democracy Fund at TheDemocracyFund.ca.