‘It’s unacceptable:’ Drive-ins, movie theatres call for Ontario to ease restrictions

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TORONTO — The head of Ontario’s largest drive-in theatre chain says the province’s latest reopening plan threatens to send shockwaves through the Canadian film industry and put some exhibitors out of business.

Brian Allen, president of Toronto-based Premier Theatres, says “it’s absolutely unacceptable” that Premier Doug Ford’s new three-step plan prevents him from reopening his physically distanced drive-ins before mid-June.

The latest guidelines, outlined on Thursday, will allow outdoor recreational amenities, such as golf courses, to reopen in the province on Saturday.

Drive-in screens will have to wait longer, even though they enforce the use of masks and distancing measures, such as online ticket sales and a phone app to order from the concession. They are part of Step 1, that will likely begin the week of June 14.

Allen says he’s already lost at least eight weeks of business at his drive-in theatres in London, Ont., Barrie, Newmarket, Hamilton and Oakville.

And he expects by the time drive-ins reopen he’ll have missed about 40 per cent of his seasonal revenue, including early summer blockbusters that are hitting theatres stateside.

“When you cut out our season, you’re cutting out our lifeline,” he said.

“They seem to do things with a hammer, rather than a scalpel … It’s going to put some drive-ins possibly out of business.”

Movie theatre operators also criticized Ontario’s three-step plan, which wouldn’t see indoor cinemas open until late July at the earliest.

“We have been operating safely in Quebec since February — throughout the entire third wave — while allowing 250 guests per auditorium,” said Cineplex Inc. president Ellis Jacob in a statement.

“Cinemas will be locked down in Ontario longer than any other jurisdiction in the world, all due to a government that ignores the facts.”

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David Friend, The Canadian Press